It's too soon to update my ranking of the JLPGA's Finest--that's for the week before their 1st major of 2009, the Salonpas Cup (featuring Paula Creamer). What I can do now, though, is check in on who the hottest and coldest golfers in the world of Japanese women's golf are, along with those doing fine, thank you.
Who are the hottest among the finest? Read on....
1. Sakura Yokomine: Hasn't finished worse than 6th all season. With her win last week, she's now on an 18-event top-20 streak, with 2 wins, 7 top 5s, and 14 top 10s in that run.
2. Ji-Hee Lee: Also hasn't finished worse than 6th all season, but still looking for her 1st win. Still, she's finished in the top 10 in 9 of her last 10 events, including a win, a runner-up, and 5 top 5s, to go with her 5-event top-10 streak. The single blemish in that run, a T31, is her only finish outside the top 20 since her missed cut in the opening event of 2008. Now that's a hot streak!
3. Miho Koga: Has only played twice in '09, finishing 12th and 4th--which is a lot more consistent but less explosive than her stretch run last season when she sandwiched a missed cut between 2 wins to steal the money title from Ji-Hee Lee.
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon: Hasn't finished worse than 16th all season, with 3 top 10s in 4 starts capped off by last week's disappointing playoff loss--a bad flashback to the end of last season, when she handed a major and a money title to Koga with a bogey-double finish. But at least she's back in contention again after disappearing for virtually all of the JLPGA's stretch run in 2008. I'm hoping it was just a coincidence that her bad play began soon after I ranked her #1 on tour!
5. Yuko Mitsuka: Last season ended well for her, with 3 straight top-5 finishes and 5 straight top 20s. She started off this season with a win and followed up a disappointing end to her top-20 streak with a top 5. So never mind last week's missed cut.
Ayako Uehara: She followed up her season-opening runner-up with a win, then nabbed her 3rd straight top 10 of the season before missing the cut last week. Great bounceback from a disappointing 2nd half of last season.
Ji-Yai Shin: Yes, her T15 last week was her worst finish on the JLPGA since an exhaustion-induced 16th-place finish at the last event of '08. But that's only disappointing because her other worst finishes last season were her 3 runner-ups, which just happened to be sandwiched between her non-member win and convincing win at the Mizuno Classic.
Erina Hara: She closed out last season with 4 straight top 20s, but no top 10s. This season, she already has 2 runner-ups to go with her T12 last week. Never mind that missed cut in between--she's definitely among the hottest players on the JLPGA.
Bo-Bae Song: Speaking of bouncebacks, she disappeared for most of last season after a super-hot start to it, until finishing strong with 3 top 10s in her last 4 events. She now has a 4-event streak going in which she hasn't finished worse than 7th. And she's not even putting well in '09 yet!
Eun-A Lim: One of the hottest players on the JLPGA at the end of last season--she finished with 4 top 5s in her last 6 events--she's sandwiched a missed cut between a T16 and a T9 this season, for only her 3rd finish outside the top 20 in her last 14.
This is the list you don't want to be on and especially near the top of--it consists of those golfers who have been playing the furthest below expectations.
1. Akiko Fukushima: Has only played in 1 event all season and finished T38 there. It's her 6th finish outside the top 20 since she got her 2nd win last season, which may not sound that bad, but it's quite a nosedive for any elite JLPGA player, not to mention the one in 2nd place on the career money list.
2. Mayu Hattori: Had a run at the end of last season when she squeezed a win, a runner-up, and 2 other top 5s into 5 events, but she's only managed to finish 1 of 4 tournaments this season, and it wasn't even a good finish.
3. Kumiko Kaneda: One of the hot young things I've been keeping an eye on for awhile now, she hasn't come close to making a cut in her 1st 4 professional starts.
4. Miki Saiki: Struggled mightily for most of '08, but seemed to be getting it back just in time for LPGA Q-School, as she nabbed top 10s in 3 of her last 4 and 5 of her last 8 events on the JLPGA. But she flubbed Q-School and hasn't broken into the top 20 in her 4 JLPGA events in '09.
5. Yuri Fudoh: Barely made the top 10 in her 1st event of the season, then missed the cut in the 2nd. She still knows how to win, to be sure, as evidenced by her tying Koga for most wins on tour in '08, with 4. And yes, that run at the end of the season--when she won twice, had a runner-up and 1 other top 5, and never finished worse than 14th--shows she's still able to string a lot of great events together. But the days of her Annika- or Lorena-like dominance over the JLPGA seem to be over.
Actually, most of the JLPGA's young guns--from Maiko Wakabayashi, Yuki Ichinose, and Ritsuko Ryu in last year's rookie class to Sakurako Mori, Rikako Morita, Yuki Sakurai, and Mai Arai in this year's--are off to slow starts.
Here's where I keep track of players threatening to break into the hot list.
1. Ai Miyazato: Dating back to 2007, she's made the top 10 in 6 of 8 JLPGA starts. But it's her inability to close the deal, despite being in serious contention in almost every one of those top 10s, that defines the player who won 13 times on tour between 2004 and 2006 (and once as an amateur in 2003). She had a great chance to break the streak last week, but couldn't do it. I'm not putting her on the hot list b/c I'm not sure when she's next playing on the JLPGA.
2. Ji-Woo Lee: She followed up her 1st runner-up on the JLPGA with a T4 last week. That's the 1st time in her JLPGA career that she's strung together 2 top 5s in a row.
3. Ah-Reum Hwang: What a difference a week makes! Last weekend, she went 67-65 to run away from the field for her 1st JLPGA win. This weekend, she faded to T37 with a 79-75 weekend showing. But still, what a start for a player who only had 2 Step-Up Tour wins and a late-season runner-up on the big tour to her name until 2009.
4. Hyun-Ju Shin: She was the hottest golfer on tour for a stretch last season when she capped off a 7-event top-10 streak with a win. But injuries forced her to the sidelines for far too long. So it's a good sign that she's got 4 straight top 20s to start the new season, but too soon to tell if she's all the way back.
5. Yuko Saitoh: Also riding a 4-event top-20 streak in '09, a nice bounceback from some seriously bad play in the 2nd half of '08.
Nikki Campbell: She really only had a 4-tournament stretch last JLPGA season when she played well, so her solid start this season--2 top 10s in 4 starts, with no missed cuts--is hopefully a sign of better things to come for her.
Hiromi Mogi: It's been either feast (2 top 10s) or famine (2 missed cuts) for her thus far this season. She was steadier last season, but rather unimpressive since her mid-season win. So it's good to see her getting her 1st top 5 since October, but troubling that she's already missed more cuts this season than all of last year.