Monday, June 30, 2008

The Best of the LPGA: June 2008 Edition

I closed April's ranking of the Best of the LPGA with this comment on Lorena Ochoa's dominance: "No one can stay in the zone forever...." After the loss of her uncle and grandfather, I'm sorry to see her sublime play come to an end. But the 2nd half of the season becomes even more interesting, doesn't it, when anyone can win any given week?

Who has the best chance to make up the most ground on Ochoa this summer? Let's find out by combining the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30.

Despite her recent struggles, there's no question who's #1:

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($2.03M), #1 RR (19.46), #1 GSPI (68.00), #1 HD. She still leads in almost every single significant statistical category the LPGA keeps track of, but the gap between her and her closest competitors is closing. More important, her run of utter dominance is over. The LPGA's Young Guns are gaining in confidence; with each win by one of their peers, it makes the rest of them wonder why they haven't yet done it. Rookies Louise Friberg and Ya Ni Tseng and Junior Mint Seon Hwa Lee woke up Super Sophs Eun-Hee Ji and Inbee Park. Who will be next? With Ochoa not returning to competition for a few weeks, the possibilities are endless....

While it's clear who Ochoa's top competition on tour is and that this chase pack has been gaining on her, it's just as clear that they've been dealing with problems of their own, as symbolized by Suzann Pettersen's and Paula Creamer's inability to close the deal the past 2 weeks (and Jeong Jang's multiple near-misses this season), along with Annika Sorenstam's inability to build on her own dominating win back in mid-May. The only 1 moving up is a rookie--and Tseng's been playing hurt, just like Jang.

2. Annika Sorenstam: #2 money ($1.46M), #2 RR (11.39), #3 GSPI (69.24), #2 HD. If she was putting 1/10th as well as she was striking the ball, she'd have made up some serious ground on Ochoa. As it is, she's missed the top 10 in 4 of 5 tournaments since she ran away with the Michelob Ultra.
3. Paula Creamer: #3 money ($1.06M), #4 RR (8.08), #4 GSPI (69.41), #3 HD. With her final round blow-up at the U.S. Women's Open, she missed her chance to pass Sorenstam and get tha "best player without a major" label off her back at the ripe old age of 21. But she did get her 3rd straight top 10.
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #5 money ($876.8K), #6 RR (6.16), #5 GSPI (69.86), #5 HD. This is not a typo. I'm ranking Tseng ahead of Pettersen. Winning a major will do that for you. With tricep tendonitis, though, she's better think long and hard about getting some rest before the European swing.
5. Suzann Pettersen: #8 money ($729.5K), #3 RR (8.93), #2 GSPI (69.52), #4 HD. After blowing up in the first round of the Open, she outplayed just about everyone over her final 3 rounds. But that's been the story of her season--she's probably playing better than she was last year, but one big round has dashed her hopes for contention. And when she has been in the hunt, she hasn't closed the deal: 3 top 3s but 0 wins will not put her back in the top 4.
6. Jeong Jang: #6 money ($826.0K), #8 RR (5.10), #8 GSPI (70.17), #7 HD. With 5 top 3s this season and missed chances for multiple wins, Jang knows just how Pettersen is feeling. And with a bad wrist, she ought to be considering a short break before the European swing just as Tseng should be.

Surprisingly, there's only 1 player in the top 10 in 3 of the 4 systems:

7. Karrie Webb: #10 money ($524.6K), #5 RR (6.34), #12 GSPI (70.61), #8 HD. She has 3 top 3s but no other top 10s this season. I call it veteran-itis. Don't expect her to remain in the top 10 next ranking. There are too many hungry young guns behind her playing better and more consistent golf than she has been the past 2 years.

The rest of the lead pack has fallen back a bit and can be found in the top 10 in only 2 of the 4 systems (and/or in the top 20 in all):

8. Seon Hwa Lee: #7 money ($738.8K), #14 RR (4.47), #16 GSPI (70.72), #6 HD. Seemed to be coming out of a bad stretch in May but hasn't followed up on her amazing come-from-behind win in the Ginn Tribute.
9. Cristie Kerr: #20 money ($395.4K), #7 RR (5.32), #7 GSPI (70.08), #14 HD. Big disappointment over the weekend at the Open, but she does have 5 straight top 20s, so seems to be overcoming her early-spring inconsistency.
10. Maria Hjorth: #13 money ($457.0K), #10 RR (4.84), #13 GSPI (70.61), #10 HD. Lost to Tseng in a playoff at the LPGA Championship right after missing the cut at the Ginn Tribute. What more can I say to illustrate her inconsistency?
11. Jee Young Lee: #15 money ($436.6K), #13 RR (4.55), #15 GSPI (70.64), #9 HD. Inconsistency has been her demon this season, as well. She's either following up top 10s with a finish in the 50s or sandwiching a missed cut among top 20s. Like Pettersen, made a good comeback after a bad start to the Open, so maybe she's due for better things....

But there's a large group of golfers with a top 10 in 1 system or top 20s in 3 of the 4.

12. Inbee Park: #4 money ($1.01M), #12 RR (4.55), #33 GSPI (71.44), #26 HD. Ever since I proclaimed that she had been passed by a couple of classmates who have much fewer events under their belts, she's been playing great in 2008. And now she's the youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Open! I love it when a plan comes together....
13. Na Yeon Choi: #11 money ($508.1K), #39 RR (2.86), #9 GSPI (70.28), #11 HD. Her worst finish on the LPGA (T32) is still her 1st event of the year and she did well to get a top 20 at the Open after competing in Korea the week before. With Tseng's injury and Ueda's lost opportunity on Open Sunday, she may be the favorite for the rookie of the year, even though she's still 97 points behind.
14. Hee-Won Han: #21 money ($395.1K), #29 RR (3.22), #10 GSPI (70.54), #20 HD. The top new mom on tour hasn't played at all well since the Michelob Ultra, but despite her uncharacteristic inconsistency, she still has 2 top 10s in that stretch. Look for her to shake off her terrible Open quickly.
15. Song-Hee Kim: #9 money ($553.4K), #56 RR (2.00), #40 GSPI (71.74), #12 HD. Was one of the hottest players on tour in the spring, but has shown signs of her early-season shakiness since her 3rd-place finish at the Ginn Tribute.
16. Mi Hyun Kim: #30 money ($338.5K), #16 RR (4.18), #11 GSPI (70.60), #16 HD. Her T6 at the Open was the 3rd straight top 10 in a major for the player with my vote for the "best w/o a major" title. Unfortunately, she has a bad history at the British Open....
17. Christina Kim: #17 money ($421.7K), #35 RR (2.92), #14 GSPI (70.63), #15 HD. She's #3 in the Solheim Cup standings and #4 in top 10s this season, so why is she ranked so low? Say it with me: inconsistency!
18. Stacy Prammanasudh: #31 money ($330.0K), #19 RR (3.86), #19 GSPI (70.95), #17 HD. She was the 12th player to finish under par at the Open, but missed out on a top 10 last weekend. Still has a good chance to salvage a season that opened with such promise (a 5th-place finish at the HSBC Women's Champions) but has resulted in only 2 other top 10s.

There are only a few golfers with top 20s in 2 of the 4 systems.

19. Eun-Hee Ji: #12 money ($486.7K), #18 RR (3.94), #22 GSPI (70.98), n.r. HD. One hot weekend in Rochester does not a season make, but beating the LPGA's #5 golfer shows just how much potential this Super Soph has!
20. Sophie Gustafson: #27 money ($360.9K), #28 RR (3.28), #17 GSPI (70.84), #19 HD. Like Pettersen and Hjorth, suffering an all-too-common European disease of being unable to finish off tournaments, but look for her to shake off her Open MC quickly.
21. Momoko Ueda: #39 money ($280.9K), #11 RR (4.57), #18 GSPI (70.84), n.r. HD. Her recent win on the JLPGA and near-miss of a top 10 at the Open may be signs of better things to come for Japan's top golfer. But she's had chances to go on a tear earlier this season and failed to sustain the momentum of twice playing in the final pairing on a Sunday. Here's hoping she heats up as the summer does.

The large group with one top 20 and otherwise strong stats is full of players who were hot in the early spring but have since cooled off, but a few are coming on strong:

22. Laura Diaz: #16 money ($427.6K), #26 RR (3.940), #23 GSPI (71.02), #22 HD. Had some good finishes heading into the Open, but couldn't sustain her momentum.
23. Angela Stanford: #23 money ($373.4K), #23 RR (3.57), #24 GSPI (71.02), #18 HD. In a real tailspin since making Hound Dog's top 10 in May, but she's too good for it to last.
24. Karen Stupples: #19 money ($400.0K), #28 RR (2.86), #25 GSPI (71.03), #25 HD. Falling behind Han in the "best new mom" race.
25. Morgan Pressel: #22 money ($377.3K), #15 RR (4.37), #35 GSPI (71.55), #24 HD. 3 top 10s and nothing worse than a T25 in her last 5 starts after missing the cut 3 straight times suggests she's on her way back to the game's elite, but her weak weekend at the Wegmans shows how far she still has to go.
26. Angela Park: #28 money ($351.1K), #20 RR (3.78), #36 GSPI (71.57), n.r. HD. Her T3 at the Open is her best finish of the year and only her 3rd top 10 of the season. Hope it gives her just the confidence boost she needs.
27. Juli Inkster: #36 money ($288.0K), #17 RR (4.05), #21 GSPI (70.96), #25 HD. Missed the last 2 cuts in a row, but never count this Hall of Famer out!
28. Candie Kung: #29 money ($344.5K), #55 RR (2.01), #20 GSPI (70.96), n.r. HD. Has missed the cut twice since the last ranking, but also has had 2 top 10s, 2 top 20s, and 2 top 30s in that stretch. Good enough to move up a few spots.
29. Teresa Lu: #18 money ($415.6K), #57 RR (1.99), #47 GSPI (71.89), n.r. HD. Her top 10 at the Open was her 1st good finish in a major this year, showing she may be getting used to hanging with the game's elite.
30. Helen Alfredsson: #14 money ($450.8K), #43 RR (2.63), #80 GSPI (72.69), n.r. HD. Great Open, but don't expect to see her back here in August.

Here are the best of the rest!

30. Lindsey Wright: #34 money ($307.0K), #45 RR (2.50), #32 GSPI (71.44), #23 HD. Has cooled off a lot since the early spring, but not enough to drop her out of the ranking.
31. Brittany Lang: #24 money ($372.1K), #48 RR (2.22), #34 GSPI (71.48), #27 H.D. Having one of the best seasons of the Junior Mints, she's over her sophomore jinx and movin' on up.
32. Catriona Matthew: #40 money ($264.5K), #22 RR (3.59), #27 GSPI (71.18), n.r. HD. This new mom still hasn't found her stride in 2008 after a great comeback year in 2007, but a top 20 at the Open shows she has the talent to compete at the highest level.
33. Nicole Castrale: #41 money ($260.7K), #25 RR (3.43), #29 GSPI (71.26), n.r. HD. I was ready to write her off, but 3 top 10s in her last 4 events, including her last 2 majors, have her back on my radar.
34. Jane Park: #26 money ($367.2K), #54 RR (2.02), #49 GSPI (71.93), #29 H.D. The 5th Super Soph in this ranking, she's put herself in contention a few times already this season and is likely to do it several more times before the year is out.
35. Natalie Gulbis: #52 money ($154.4K), #31 RR (3.13), #31 GSPI (71.57), n.r. HD. Yup, despite her slump this season there's no one I'd rank ahead of her--using this system, at least.

There are a big group of players threatening to break into the top 35, among them Se Ri Pak, Sun Young Yoo, In-Kyung Kim, Ai Miyazato, Minea Blomqvist, Jimin Kang, Shi Hyun Ahn, Meena Lee, Ji Young Oh, Guilia Sergas, Leta Lindley, Brittany Lincicome, Laura Davies, Sherri Steinhauer, and Pat Hurst. We'll see where they stand in August!