Friday, August 29, 2008

The Best of the LPGA: August 2008 Edition

This is my 4th ranking of the LPGA's top players this season. With international dominance all the rage this week, let's see what the numbers say.

June: 8 in top 10, 16 in top 20, 22 in top 30, 24 in top 35.
April: 8 in top 10, 14 in top 20, 20 in top 30, 23 in top 33.
February: 8 in top 10, 12 in top 20, 18 in top 30, 19 in top 31.

The number of ranked players who grew up in non-English-dominant countries grew from 14 to 16 to 19, or 45% to 48% to 54% of the LPGA's best.

And now? 8 of the top 10, 17 of the top 20, 22 of the top 30, and 32 of the top 45 were not born in the U.S.A. Of the ranked players, 26--almost 58%--grew up in non-English-dominant countries. So, yeah, Americans continue to lose ground on the LPGA. Except for 2.

The chase pack is closing on the world #1, but she's not going down without a fight:

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($2.38M), #1 RR (18.60), #1 GSPI (67.70), #1 HD. Only a player of Ochoa's stature could be said to be "struggling" since my last ranking, but that's what happens when you go from winnng almost every tournament you enter to having trouble contending. Still, she dominates almost every major statistical category, often by a wide margin, and has made enough since June alone to rank just outside the top 50 on the money list, which is to say that in less than 2 months she's done better than 130 of her competitors have done all season. She is so due that I predict multiple wins for her down the stretch.

Even as the chase pack is closing, it's also fragmenting. There are only 2 other players in the top 5 in all 4 systems and only 4 in the top 10:

2. Annika Sorenstam: #2 money ($1.59M), #2 RR (10.79), #4 GSPI (69.05), #2 HD. Like Hound Dog, I can't picture her getting LPGA victory #73. I'll go further and worry publicly that my prediction that she'd end the season at #5 may have been a bit too generous. Does she have anything left in the tank for the home stretch? She skipped the Midwest swing to prepare for the European swing. Will she even play September's Southern swing? And would even that much rest help her all that much in October and November?
3. Paula Creamer: #3 money ($1.48M), #5 RR (8.62), #2 GSPI (68.85), #3 HD. I'll tell you, I was tempted to put Creamer ahead of Sorenstam. She's already ahead in top 10 percentage and greens in regulation rate--and right behind in scoring average, birdies per round rate, and rounds under par percentage. Do you realize she's had only 4 finishes outside the top 16 all season? (Sorenstam's had 7.)
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #4 money ($1.41M), #3 RR (8.79), #8 GSPI (69.53), #4 HD. At the same time, if Tseng had turned any of her 4 silvers and 1 bronze this season into just 1 gold, I would have strongly considered making her my #2. Her disappointing missed cut at the Safeway Classic is only her 6th finish outside the top 16. With her nagging triceps problem, the LPGA's late-summer vacation couldn't have come at a better time for her physically. She still could end the season at #2. As great as Creamer's been playing this season, I think Tseng is the only 1 on tour who has a real chance at taking Player of the Year away from Ochoa. She's the only other player on tour averaging above 4 birdies per round, so she has the gunslinger's mentality--and talent to back it up--that's needed to take on the challenge. And she's recently joined the elite group of players that Lorena mentions by name, following a similar compliment from Annika.
5. Cristie Kerr: #9 money ($882.3K), #6 RR (6.42), #6 GSPI (69.22), #5 HD. Amazing what a win will do for your year, isn't it? With it, she jumped back to where she started the season after dropping to #9 in June. But with 10 straight finishes of 21st or better (and only 8 worse than 16th all season), she's punched her ticket for the ADT Championship, given herself a great shot at her 5th straight million-dollar season, and established herself as 1 of the hottest players on tour. It'll be very interesting to see how the multiple weeks off in August and September will affect her momentum.

Don't look now, but the trio with a trio of top 10s is due to break out:

6. Suzann Pettersen: #11 money ($868.9K), #4 RR (8.78), #3 GSPI (68.94), #9 HD. You know, I'm sure she's not terribly happy with her results this season, but I have to say I've been impressed with her mental toughness. Her worst finish all season has been a T34 at the LPGA Championship--it's her only finish outside the top 30. So even when she hasn't had her A-game, she's proven that her B-game is pretty damn good. If she can get half as hot at the end of this season as she did at the end of 2007, she'll not only make it 2 years in a row that the Class of 2003 has a pair of million-dollar winners, but also give herself a chance to catch Annika.
7. Na Yeon Choi: #8 money ($1.00M), #27 RR (3.56), #7 GSPI (69.44), #6 HD. Although she recently matched her worst finish on the LPGA from the 1st event of the year at the Canadian Women's Open (T32) and hasn't medalled as often as Rookie of the Year race leader Tseng, she could still finish at the top of her class. She's got a better top 10 rate, after all, and is hanging with Tseng in just about every other category. This could be the best ROY race in LPGA history....
8. Seon Hwa Lee: #7 money ($1.06M), #10 RR (5.22), #13 GSPI (70.40), #7 HD. Talk about the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx: Lee has gotten each of her wins this season soon after I complained about her short game in April and her inconsistency in June. So it's time to complain about her hangover since that NW Arkansas victory. Time to snap out of it, Seon Hwa!

The rest of the chase 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):

9. Jeong Jang: #10 money ($874.3K), #11 RR (4.87), #9 GSPI (69.89), #11 HD. Ouch--her taking that break to rest her wrist that I recommended back in June hasn't helped. Expect her to have surgery in the off-season. But also look for her to break the million-dollar mark this season. That's how tough she is.
10. Inbee Park: #5 money ($1.10M), #12 RR (4.74), #33 GSPI (71.02), #8 HD. You know, it's sad to see that the U.S. Women's Open jinx is even stronger than the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx. Or is it? Only time will tell if this attempt to trigger the latter can overcome the former. And if noting that she had a worse start to the season and a similar rough patch in the middle weakens the latter too much. How about this? I think the GSPI is a more accurate indicator of her chances the rest of the season than the other systems.
11. Helen Alfredsson: #6 money ($1.10M), #9 RR (5.43), #49 GSPI (71.58), #17 HD. You know, I just love to see the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx in action. In June I wrote, "don't expect to see her back here in August." Instead, she moves from #30 almost into my top 10! Still, I'd be shocked to see her finish in my top 20. There. She'll probably win the ADT Championship now.
12. Eun-Hee Ji: #12 money ($819.8K), #15 RR (4.57), #15 GSPI (70.46), #12 HD. Had a great Midwest swing and European swing, but cooled off up north, so the LPGA's summer break is coming at a good time for her. I would not be surprised to see her win again this season, perhaps even in the Southern swing. Nor would I be surprised to see her pass fellow Super Soph Inbee Park on the money list by season's end. What can I say? She reminds me of Seon Hwa Lee.
13. Hee-Won Han: #17 money ($683.8K), #19 RR (4.21), #10 GSPI (69.95), #13 HD. Now that's more like it! If she can continue the pace she's been setting of late--4 top 10s in her last 5 events--she'll validate her pre-season ranking of #8 from me.
14. Karrie Webb: #14 money ($711.9K), #8 RR (6.05), #11 GSPI (70.01), #14 HD. Hey, I finally got a call right back in June: "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." If she doesn't turn it around soon, my pre-season #21 ranking will prove to be prescient.
15. Angela Park: #13 money ($784.9K), #13 RR (4.68), #17 GSPI (70.60), #16 HD. Movin' on up! 4 top 6s in your last 7 events will do that for you.

Surprisingly, there's only 1 player with top 20s in 3 of the 4 systems.

16. Jee Young Lee: #18 money ($561.4K), #17 RR (4.43), #18 GSPI (70.61), #21 HD. The good news: she has 8 top 20s in her last 10 events. The bad news: she's missed the cut twice and has no top 10s in that same span. Come on, Jee Young!

And there are only a couple of golfers with 2 top 20s:

17. Song-Hee Kim: #15 money ($709.6K), #44 RR (2.56), #29 GSPI (70.94), #15 HD. Has the opportunity to turn a great season into a fantastic one if she can recapture that mid-season form. Taking a rest before the European swing didn't help her, so we'll have to see how she handles these 2 weeks off after a very good and a solid finish on the Northern swing. Here's hoping the Super Soph heats up in the South.
18. Karen Stupples: #25 money ($522.7K), #33 RR (3.20), #12 GSPI (70.32), #18 HD. Cooling off fast, but less fast than those behind her.

So of course there are a lot with 1 top 20 (or 4 top 30s):

19. Maria Hjorth: #26 money ($500.9K), #14 RR (4.67), #20 GSPI (70.63), #26 HD. Hasn't played all that much or all that well lately, but see what I said about Stupples.
20. Laura Diaz: #20 money ($550.9K), #26 RR (3.58), #22 GSPI (70.71), #19 HD. She's coming off her best 4-tournament string of the season, at least since its very beginning. Still, it's hard to believe she's the 4th-ranked American (behind Anela Park) this time around.
21. Ji Young Oh: #21 money ($541.6K), #54 RR (2.02), #30 GSPI (70.95), #20 HD. If you had told me in January that she'd get her 1st win before Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, Jane Park, and Song-Hee Kim, I would have looked at you like you were a crazy person. I still can't believe she did it. But great for her!
22. Jane Park: #19 money ($560.9K), #40 RR (2.78), #36 GSPI (71.20), #23 H.D. Now the 6th-ranked Super Soph here, I jinxed her when I wrote in June that "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." Sure, she got a T2 when Seon Hwa Lee won in Arkansas, but she hasn't come close since. Consider this complaint an attempt to activate the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx.
23. Mi Hyun Kim: #42 money ($376.5K), #23 RR (3.88), #14 GSPI (70.41), #30 HD. She's admitted her knee is bothering her. Made the right call to avoid the Northern swing after suffering in Europe. Hopefully the time off and the return to hot climates will heat up her game.
24. Katherine Hull: #16 money ($692.3K), #43 RR (2.62), #70 GSPI (72.04), #28 HD. A bigger Cinderella story than Oh, Hull followed up her CWO win with a 4th at the Safeway Classic, making it 3 top 6s in her last 6 events. If she can keep up this pace after the break, I'll be even more impressed.
25. Morgan Pressel: #29 money ($448.4K), #20 RR (4.09), #39 GSPI (71.24), n.r. HD. Not only did her extra preparation for the European swing not pay off, she had a disappointing Northern swing, as well. Gotta work on those approach shots. She's still not hitting nearly as many greens as she should for such an accurate driver of the ball, which is putting a lot of pressure on her putting.
26. Juli Inkster: #36 money ($412.0K), #21 RR (4.06), #16 GSPI (70.54), n.r. HD. Yup, I hit the nail on the head with June's "never count this Hall of Famer out!" Got a top 10 out of nowhere at Evian and followed it up with a top 15 at the Women's British Open. After another long break, she's poised to contend on the Southern swing.
27. Candie Kung: #33 money ($437.8K), #51 RR (2.17), #19 GSPI (70.62), n.r. HD. Disappointing results after a top 12 at the Evian Masters. Another player who stands to benefit from the chance to recharge her batteries.
28. Momoko Ueda: #38 money ($393.8K), #16 RR (4.44), #23 GSPI (70.71), n.r. HD. What a terrible August for Momo-chan! Not only did she play badly by her standards in the 2 JLPGA events she entered, but she also lost an entire fingernail in a gory accident at a photo shoot with a seeing eye dog on the eve of the Yonex Ladies this week. So much for charging up the JLPGA money list during their major season before rejoining the LPGA in Hawaii. She might still stick to that schedule, but how well she'll play while she's healing is another question entirely.

Right behind them is a trio with 3 top 30s:

29. Christina Kim: #24 money ($526.7K), #39 RR (2.85), #21 GSPI (70.70), #22 HD. Disappointing European and Northern swings lead me to believe that the summer break couldn't have come at a better time for her. Hopefully will get her groove back down South.
30. Stacy Prammanasudh: #31 money ($443.8K), #28 RR (3.55), #24 GSPI (70.78), #25 HD. Showed what she's capable of at the State Farm Classic, but went right back to the blahs afterward. Another American looking for the rebound in Dixie.
31. Sophie Gustafson: #22 money ($533.7K), #30 RR (3.44), #40 GSPI (71.25), #29 HD. Just got a T2 out of the blue--she took a little longer than I expected for her to bounce back from giving away the Sybase, but now that she remembers what it's like to be in the hunt, look for her to get back into it more often.

And close on their heels is a big group with 2 top 30s:

32. Angela Stanford: #27 money ($463.9K), #31 RR (3.32), #26 GSPI (70.91), n.r. HD. Hmm, back in June I wrote that she's "In a real tailspin since making Hound Dog's top 10 in May, but she's too good for it to last." Well, with 3 missed cuts to 1 top 10 after starting the season with the reverse, she's got a 50-50 chance of turning it around in the final third of the year.
33. Nicole Castrale: #28 money ($450.8K), #25 RR (3.59), #31 GSPI (71.00), n.r. HD. Cooled off fast up North, so she's yet another American looking for some heat next month in the South.
34. Sun Young Yoo: #23 money ($531.4K), #71 RR (1.62), #32 GSPI (71.01), #24 HD. A T4 at the CWO shows she can still jump into contention any given week, but her other results from the European and Northern swings suggest such leaps don't come all that often. Having skipped 3 of the 1st 7 events on the 2008 schedule and a grand total of 0 since week 7, the 2 weeks off since the Safeway will be much deserved--and appreciated. But will they be enough?
35. Catriona Matthew: #40 money ($388.0K), #24 RR (3.74), #38 GSPI (71.21), n.r. HD. Made her 1st (and only) cut of the year in a major at the WBO and celebrated with a strong Northern swing. Can she regain her momentum after taking 2 weeks off?
36. In-Kyung Kim: #30 money ($446.9K), #38 RR (2.99), #47 GSPI (71.57), n.r. HD. Inexplicably skipped the Safeway Classic after notching 3 straight top 20s for the 1st time all season. She still has a chance to turn this year around. It's go time for the former #2 in her class.
37. Se Ri Pak: #46 money ($332.8K), #22 RR (3.88), #80 GSPI (72.30), n.r. HD. Went MC-2nd-MC in her last 3 events. On the one hand, this shows what kind of talent this Hall of Famer still has. On the other, it raises questions about her focus and motivation. Maybe she can rekindle the fire in her belly in preparation for the Asian swing.
38. Lindsey Wright: #44 money ($372.7K), #45 RR (2.42), #25 GSPI (70.82), n.r. HD. Has cooled off a lot since the early spring, but still relatively close to being a top 20 player. It's a very big surprise to me that Hull got her 1st win before she did, though. Hopefully her 1st top 20 since the LPGA Championship last week at the Safeway Classic will remind her of her early-season play.

And here are the best of the rest:

39. Teresa Lu: #32 money ($441.9K), #56 RR (1.97), #34 GSPI (71.15), n.r. HD.
40. Ai Miyazato: #37 money ($393.8K), #35 RR (3.09), #87 GSPI (72.41), n.r. HD.
41. Meena Lee: #34 money ($435.2K), #65 RR (1.82), #43 GSPI (71.50), n.r. HD.
42. Natalie Gulbis: #53 money ($266.2K), #34 RR (3.12), #54 GSPI (71.64), n.r. HD.
43. Brittany Lang: #39 money ($389.0K), #55 RR (2.00), #60 GSPI (71.74), n.r. H.D.
44. Leta Lindley: #35 money ($415.3K), #69 RR (1.66), #59 GSPI (71.73), n.r. HD.
45. Shi Hyun Ahn: #52 money ($289.9K), #37 RR (3.03), #77 GSPI (72.24), n.r. HD.

As always, I get these figures 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. We'll revisit them at the end of October.

[Update 1 (9/6/08, 6:33 pm): Hound Dog has rolled out his advanced rating system that allows him to rank the LPGA's top 70! If I can find the time, I'll update this top 45 with his new rankings!]


The Constructivist said...

Waggle Roomed the top 18....

spyder said...

Just a small request, in October when you remake the list, could you include players' ages??? A rookie on the tour may be older than some of the three to four year veterans and so forth. Age does bear on a variety of factors including: strength, muscle mass, size, maturity, distractions, and so forth. The diversity in age between numbers 25 through 31 is quite striking really. Anyway, just a thought

The Constructivist said...

Oh, man, spyder, for you I'll try (if I remember). But the info. is a click away--the names link to their bio pages.

The Constructivist said...

Oh, oops, that's in my Best of the Young Guns rankings. Maybe I'll incorporate that feature here next time!