Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Best off the LPGA: JLPGA, May 2008 Edition

With Hound Dog's first JLPGA Top 10 out this month, it's time for this functionally illiterate expert to update his March rankings. By combining Hound Dog's system with the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and the JLPGA Money List, that is, I hope to identify the Best of the JLPGA.

Because Momoko Ueda is playing full-time on the LPGA, I'm leaving her out of the rankings this time around. I'm also leaving out the KLPGA's Ji-Yai Shin, who's already won one event in a playoff and then finished runner-up due to a playoff loss in her first event as a JLPGA member. If they end up playing more than 5 JLPGA events, I'll bring them (back) in. [Update (4:01 pm): Momo-chan announced on her rookie blog that she'll be competing in the Suntory Open in Kobe after the LPGA Championship!] This is the last ranking in which I'll still take into account the final 2007 money list. By the end of July, Hound Dog will have expanded his rankings to at least a top 20, which will be a much better indicator of who's best than last year's results.

So who replaces Ueda at the top of the JLPGA? Let's call it a Big 4....

1. Sakura Yokomine: #4 2008 money (¥34.54M), #17 RR (3.76), #23 GSPI (71.13), #2 HD, #2 2007 money (¥114.9M). Even though she has yet to win in 2008, she has made more money than anyone else on the JLPGA over the past 2 seasons, has made the top 10 in 8 of her 9 starts, remains the only regular player on tour with a scoring average below 71, and is so due to break out with multiple wins. With Ueda's and Miyazato's struggles on the LPGA, she could well be the top-ranked Japanese golfer in the world by July in both major international ranking systems. How could I not put her at the top of this one?

2. Miho Koga: #2 2008 money (¥38.93M), #37 RR (2.75), #39 GSPI (71.79), #1 HD, #4 2007 money (¥94.3M). Her playoff loss this past weekend is the only thing keeping her behind Yokomine in the rankings. Once her world rankings catch up with the quality of her play, it'll be even harder to keep her out of the #1 spot. She moves up from #6, thanks to a win, 5 top 5s, 7 top 10s, and no worse than a T17 in 10 starts.

3. Akiko Fukushima: #1 2008 money (¥44.58M), #35 RR (2.85), #48 GSPI (71.96), n.r. HD, #11 2007 money (¥51.6M). She has Ji-Hee Lee to thank for her remaining at the top of the money list this season, despite taking a well-deserved week off after leaping into the second spot on the JLPGA career money list. She's eliminated that one bad round per tournament that was holding her back earlier in the season over her past 3 events, and there's no reason to believe she can't keep contending like she has been. I've moved her up from #10 in March.

4. Miki Saiki: #9 2008 money (¥28.97M), #27 RR (3.15), #30 GSPI (71.44), #6 HD, #9 2007 money (¥62.6M). Off to a slow start by her standards in 2008, yet still in the top 3 among JLPGA regulars in scoring average and as a result has 5 top 5s in 10 starts. Perhaps her playoff loss this past weekend is a sign of better things to come for the player I think has the most potential on the JLPGA.

Right behind them is a big group with 2 top 10s in the various ranking systems:

5. Shinobu Moromizato: #12 2008 money (¥15.93M), #46 RR (2.34), #51 GSPI (72.03), #8 HD, #7 2007 money (¥85.3M). With 4 top 10s in 10 starts, it's not like she's playing badly, but she moves up from #8 mostly because a few people ahead of her in the last ranking have nose-dived. As the only player in this group without a win in 2008, she must be hearing some very loud footsteps behind her.

6. Bo-Bae Song: #7 2008 money (¥31.46M), #53 RR (1.98), #68 GSPI (72.39), #3 HD, #16 2007 money (¥44.4M). With a win in the first event of the year and 5 other top 10s this season, including 4 of her last 5, many would argue that she deserves to move up farther from #9 than this, but big numbers in big tournaments have kept her out of contention the past few weeks and her 2007 was nowhere near as impressive as Moromizato's. But if she can keep her scoring average a half-stroke better than Moromizato's through June and July, she'll definitely have passed her by my next ranking.

7. Ji-Hee Lee: #3 2008 money (¥37.70M), #57 RR (1.78), #85 GSPI (72.93), #10 HD, #38 2007 money (¥23.4M). With her playoff win this past weekend, she makes one of the biggest moves in the rankings, from #21. That's what top 5s in 2/3 of your events will do for you! With a scoring average right behind Song's, she's one of the hottest players on the JLPGA in 2008.

8. Yukari Baba: #5 2008 money (¥33.53M), #71 RR (1.53), #76 GSPI (72.84), #5 HD, #28 2007 money (¥27.9M). If she hadn't missed a cut 2 events after her win this season, she could have had 5 straight top 10s to follow it up. But she's missed chances to stay or get into contention in that stretch, so I'm keeping her 1 spot behind Lee, just like in March.

9. Ayako Uehara: #8 2008 money (¥29.93M), #83 RR (1.29), #129 GSPI (73.46), #4 HD, #25 2007 money (¥32.9M). The biggest mover on the list, up from #29 in March, she should be no surprise, given her strong performance in last season's Lexus Cup. She only has 4 top 10s in 11 starts and has missed 2 cuts, but she's got a win and a runner-up already this season and has a stroke average below 72, so if she can find a bit more consistency she can move even further up the rankings by the end of July.

10. Hiroko Yamaguchi: #10 2008 money (¥24.95M), #89 RR (1.24), #75 GSPI (72.79), #7 HD, #24 2007 money (¥33.1M). Another big mover, up from #17, thanks to an early-season win preceded by 2 other top 10s; she has come back from a rough patch after the win with 2 straight top 15s, but has been plagued by at least one big number per tournament pretty much all season. It's only the struggles of those in the pack behind her that have enabled her to move quite so far up this list.

Next there's a huge group with 1 top 10, some of them moving up these rankings and some falling fast:

11. Yuri Fudoh: #14 2008 money (¥15.24M), #21 RR (3.52), #25 GSPI (71.29), #11 HD, #6 2007 money (¥87.1M). Who am I to argue with Hound Dog's ranking? Seriously, she has only 3 top 20s in 7 starts besides her 1 win and she's been stalled in her quest to become the first billion-yen winner in JLPGA history ever since then. With only 13 million or so yen to go, there's no chance she'll let Fukushima (in the mid-700s) catch her anytime soon and at 32 has many years of greatness ahead of her. But she's in danger of falling much farther than the 9 spots she fell this ranking next time around if she keeps up her lackluster play.

12. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #13 2008 money (¥15.83M), #26 RR (3.15), #55 GSPI (72.08), n.r. HD, #3 2007 money (¥110.9M). 2 top 5s and 5 top 10s in 10 starts don't sound that bad, but she's had her 2 worst finishes of the season the past 2 weeks (T33 and T28) and has never really put herself into serious contention in 2008, so it's no surprise she's fallen 5 spots since March.

13. Hyun-Ju Shin: #11 2008 money (¥21.16M), #51 RR (2.24), #63 GSPI (72.29), #9 HD, #12 2007 money (¥48.5M). "Only" has a win and a runner-up this season, but even that's only been good enough to keep her at roughly the same level as last season. Even though she's moved up 5 spots, her position is precarious if she doesn't pick up her game, which has been dragging a bit lately. It would help if she'd make more than 2.11 birdies per round!

14. Shiho Oyama: #23 2008 money (¥10.91M), #34 RR (2.91), #41 GSPI (71.85), n.r. HD, #8 2007 money (¥71.7M). A highly disappointing 2008 by her standards, despite making the top 10 in 50% of her starts. She ought to be contending for the top spot on the list instead of falling 9 spots, but she's missed 1 cut and has broken 70 only twice all season. Yikes!

15. Na Zhang: #15 2008 money (¥14.55M), #24 RR (3.20), #67 GSPI (72.33), n.r. HD, #5 2007 money (¥92.1M). Back with a bang from back injuries, she had a chance to win the JLPGA's 1st major and followed it up with a 2nd straight top 5. Her T33 this past week raises questions about the state of her health and her game, but if her back holds up there's no reason she can't get improve upon her March #13 spot.

16. Eun-A Lim: #6 2008 money (¥32.28M), #59 RR (1.74), #77 GSPI (72.85), n.r. HD, #86 2007 money (¥5.1M). It may seem unfair to keep someone who got their first win on the JLPGA two weeks ago in the same position as on the March ranking, but she has missed 2 cuts and has a scoring average over 73, so I'm reserving judgment on this KLPGA transplant for now.

17. Akane Iijima: #24 2008 money (¥10.56M), #57 RR (1.68), #72 GSPI (72.79), n.r. HD, #10 2007 money (¥60.3M). 3 top 10s in a row a few weeks ago had begun to salvage a rough start to 2008 for her, but the past 3 weeks have seen the return of her disappointing opening to the season and helped drop her 3 spots from the March ranking.

Next there's a trio with a pair of top 20s:

18. Yuko Mitsuka: #16 2008 money (¥13.67M), #55 RR (1.80), #95 GSPI (73.06), n.r. HD, #14 2007 money (¥45.3M). Missed 2 cuts in a row early in the season after a solid start, but followed up with 4 top 10s in her next 5 starts (and the 5th was a T12), but then WDed after an opening 75 this past week. Hoping she's not hurt! Would be a shame if injuries prevented her from building on her move up 2 spots in the rankings since the end of March.

19. Hiromi Mogi: #19 2008 money (¥13.16M), #78 RR (1.34), #65 GSPI (72.30), n.r. HD, #15 2007 money (¥44.9M). 4 top 10s in 11 starts keep her from falling further down these rankings than the 6 spots she did from late March, but she's still not playing well by her standards, even though she's marching smartly up the GSPI.

20. Erina Hara: #18 2008 money (¥13.36M), #63 RR (1.66), #115 GSPI (73.31), n.r. HD, #19 2007 money (¥39.7M). Her runner-up finish mid-way through the season's start is her only top 10 thus far in 2008, but it's just enough to move her up 4 spots from the March ranking.

And a large group with 1 top 20:

21. Midori Yoneyama: #17 2008 money (¥13.42M), #90 RR (1.23), #107 GSPI (73.23), n.r. HD, #21 2007 money (¥35.3M). 3 top 10s in her last 6 starts--including a runner-up finish--have her moving up 2 spots in the rankings.

22. Michiko Hattori: #20 2008 money (¥12.62M), #105 RR (1.01), #126 GSPI (73.43), n.r. HD, #34 2007 money (¥26.3M). 2 top 5s and another top 10 in her last 4 starts have her moving up the charts fast.

23. Mie Nakata: #27 2008 money (¥9.30M), #82 RR (1.30), #120 GSPI (73.33), n.r. HD, #20 2007 money (¥38.1M). Her only top 10 this season is also a top 5, but she's missed 3 cuts and interrupted her recent top 20 streak with bad finishes the last 2 weeks. Only moves up the list because others are doing worse.

24. Chie Arimura: #30 2008 money (¥7.65M), #76 RR (1.38), #84 GSPI (72.93), n.r. HD, #13 2007 money (¥47.6M). Mixed 2 top 10s with 3 missed cuts early in the season but has consistently finished in the top 15 to top 35 range the last few weeks. Like Nakata, only moves up the list because others are doing worse.

Here are the best of the rest:

25. Yun-Jye Wei: #21 2008 money (¥12.05M), #72 RR (1.52), #134 GSPI (73.50), n.r. HD, #29 2007 money (¥12.0M). Cooling off after a great start to 2008, she's missed 2 cuts and hasn't finished higher than 27th in weeks, so it's no surprise that she's dropped all the way from 11th in March.

26. Kaori Higo: #25 2008 money (¥10.26M), #104 RR (1.02), #135 GSPI (73.54), n.r. HD, #50 2007 money (¥15.8M). Another player cooling off from a hot start, her top 10 this past week arrested her free fall after 4 missed cuts in 6 events, but she still drops 11 spots in the charts.

Nobody else really stands out to me: absentees from the March ranking Nikki Campbell (#93 RR, #93 GSPI), Yui Kawahara (#97 RR, #98 GSPI), Mayu Hattori (#118 RR, #87 GSPI), Namika Omata (#107 RR, #114 GSPI), and Pei-Lin Yu (#302 RR, #172 GSPI) will have to play their way into the July ranking, while up-and-coming young guns like Maiko Wakabayashi (#132 RR, #235 GSPI), Yuki Ichinose (#283 RR, #152 GSPI), Ritsuko Ryu (#206 RR, #325 GSPI), and Esther Lee (n.r. RR, #216 GSPI) will have to outdo the canny veterans they're hanging out with in the middle reaches of the money list to have a chance to be included....