It's April Fool's Day today, but I'm still guardedly hopeful that Golf Channel's tribute to Se Ri Pak during last week's event in Phoenix was no joke.
You never can tell with GC, it seems. They pander as bad as anyone in the golfy media to the notion that the only LPGA members who deserve mention on TV (much less space on the highlights reel) are named Michelle, Lorena, and Paula (and sometimes Natalie, Suzann, Cristie, and Morgan). And they sure seem to have their own unofficial Asian exclusion act when it comes to highlights. Thankfully, between the LPGA's 2009 Performance Chart and stats pages, anyone can look and see who really are the hottest golfers (atsui), the coldest (samui), and those on the verge of breaking through (daijo bu). That's no joke, particularly heading into the LPGA's 1st major of 2009.
1. Angela Stanford: Yes, Stanford's 9-event top 10 streak ended in Phoenix, but with 3 wins, 9 top 10s, and no finish worse than 15th in her last 10 events, she's still the hottest player in the world of women's golf in my book.
2. Ji-Yai Shin: Just missed a great chance to get her 5th win in her last 10 LPGA starts last week in Phoenix. It took a Hall of Famer to deny her. Read those 2 sentences again and you'll see why some have called her the favorite in this season's Player of the Year race.
3. Lorena Ochoa: It's official. The era of Ochoa's effortless dominance on the LPGA is over. But you know what? She's still my favorite to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
4. Cristie Kerr: Her hot streak dates back to last May, for in her last 22 tournaments, she's only finished outside the top 20 twice (her worst being a T34 in China), while garnering 12 top 10s (including 2 in a row), including a win and a runner-up in that stretch.
5. Ya Ni Tseng: Her 67-67 finish on the weekend in Phoenix was the best in the field. Even though she couldn't chase down the leaders, that charge was reminiscent of how she won her 1st major. With a 7-event LPGA top-20 streak and no finish worse than 11th in 2009 on any tour (even with food poisoning down under!), she's so due for win #2--could it come this week?
Karrie Webb: Her dramatic win last week put an exclamation point on a 4-event top-20 run in which she's also gotten a runner-up (to the woman she beat in Phoenix!).
Angela Park: With 2 top 3s in her 1st 3 official starts on the LPGA in '09 and 4 top 10s in her last 5, she's one of the players to beat at the KNC.
Eun-Hee Ji: She's now got 3 top 10s in 5 events this season and top 20s in her last 7 starts.
Paula Creamer: Apparently, Mexico was crueler to her than I had first thought, for she couldn't even start in Phoenix. [Update (5:07 am): Whoops, Reuters reports it all started in Asia.]
Katherine Hull: 2 bad results in a row and only 1 good one to start her season on the LPGA are not what she needs headed into the year's 1st major. Could her run of great play be over?
Jee Young Lee: Had trouble with Papago, but look for her to bounce back at the KNC from her T27.
Suzann Pettersen: She's back, even if her knee is bothering her.
Song-Hee Kim: Don't look now, but she's got 2 top 10s in a row and is playing great on Sundays.
Sun Young Yoo. Riding a 4-event top-20 streak, which could easily have been a top-10 streak.
Ai Miyazato: She's playing the best golf of her career since at least 2006, yet hasn't even gone low like her birdie rate suggests she's capable of. There's a reason she hasn't finished worse than 26th all season on the LPGA and has garnered 5 top 10s on the LPGA, ALPG/LET, and JLPGA in a run dating back to last November.
1. Julieta Granada: Another badly missed cut for her, this time in Phoeniz.
2. Shiho Oyama: She's making Shinobu Moromizato's struggles when she tried the LPGA a couple of years back a little more understandable. But she started slow last season on the JLPGA and got hotter as the weather did.
3. Inbee Park: Got her 1st top 20 in ages!
4. Minea Blomqvist: Missed her 1st cut of the season in Phoenix, now making it 4 out of 5 LPGA events she's finished 50th or worse. Sure, she's a streaky player and could bounce back big any time, but this long a bad run is unlike her.
5. Brittany Lincicome: Has now made 2 cuts in a row and stayed at par or better over her last 3 rounds. Could this be the start of a comeback?
Dishonorable Mention: Ashleigh Simon has been MIA on the LPGA and ALPG/LET in '09, but I've decided to take someone dealing with an injury off the main cold list.
1. Na Yeon Choi: Still on the edge of LPGA greatness. Can she break through in the tour's 1st major of the year?
2. Brittany Lang: Needs to get back in the saddle again!
3. Jane Park: Hopefully that MC in Phoenix was just a blip.
4. Se Ri Pak: Is Pak back? All signs point to "yes"! If she ever puts together 4 good rounds in a row, watch out for her to join Karrie Webb in the Hall of Famer winner's circle this season.
5. Kristy McPherson is quietly assembling a solid start to her season, with 2 top 20s in a row and no finish worse than 31st. While other "daijo bu" candidates Seon Hwa Lee, Momoko Ueda, Meena Lee, Teresa Lu, and Mi Hyun Kim missed the cut in Phoenix, McPherson kept chugging along, definitively washing the taste of a disappointing late fall Asian Swing out of her mouth in the process. She keeps this up, and she won't be #8 in her rookie class much longer.
Honorable Mention: Lindsey Wright has put together 2 top 20s in a row and hasn't finished outside the top 30 in her last 4 starts. She started last season as the hottest Australian on the LPGA before suffering an injury, so looks like she's on the mend and on the comeback trail.
So with the KLPGA season kicking off soon, the JLPGA season getting into gear, and the LPGA taking two weeks off this month, this list will soon start looking a lot less LPGA-centric. We'll get a sneak peek at several of the top Korean and Japanese players at the KNC this week. Enjoy!