Monday, January 18, 2010

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up

I'm curious as to which players from my previous wins-based rankings can join the best of the LPGA's best on this list, and how quickly. Will anyone have the kind of wins explosion this coming season that Annika and the #1 player here became famous for? Or will it be more of the steady climb that's characterized the #2 and #3 players here? After the Hall of Famers, there are very few active players who've made it to double digits in career victories left on the LPGA--and very few of them who are still viable threats to add to their totals in 2010. Who will be the next to join the Double Digits Club? Stay tuned!

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. Lorena Ochoa (27/2): If 2009 was a down season for the world #1, she's 1 of the 5 best players in LPGA history. Not only did she win her 4th-straight Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy, 2009 was her 5th multiple-win season in her 7-year career on the LPGA and her 6th-straight season in the Million Dollar Club. The only pertinent question for 2010 is how much longer she can remain Queen of the LPGA Hill, now that she's married and has to be thinking about when to add to her new family. To augment her standing in LPGA history, though, she will need to win more majors and have more multi-million dollar seasons with 4 wins or more. After 2010, she needs 2 more full seasons to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame. Will she hold off on having a child of her own until after 2012? Or will she try to add to her legend before then by becoming one of the few moms on tour to keep winning regularly?
2. Paula Creamer (8/0): Even though she didn't win in 2009, she made it her 5th-straight season in the Million Dollar Club and, according to tatkins at Hound Dog LPGA, she had the 3rd-best season on tour (behind only Ochoa and Cristie Kerr) when you consider performance stats alone. So if she's healthy in 2010, I see her having a multiple-win season, particularly if she putts like she's capable of.
3. Cristie Kerr (12/1): Let's see how she bounces back from letting a couple of majors, the Player of the Year award, the Vare Trophy, and the money-list title slip through her fingers in 2009. I see a little bit of a letdown in the 1st half of 2010 for her. But I'd be shocked if she failed to join the Million Dollar Club for the 7th-straight season and failed to win in 2010. If she's going to qualify for the Hall of Fame, though, she'd better pick up the pace!

The Contenders

4. Karrie Webb (36/7): During her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43). In her 14-year LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, never had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (these were the only times her scoring average rose above 71.50), and only 3 times failed to enter the winner's circle (each of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd). The thing is, all 3 of those seasons came in the last 5 years, which raises some nagging doubts about 2010. A key for her this coming season will be continuing to improve her driving accuracy, as she did in 2009. Giving herself better looks at the green will translate into more and better birdie opportunities and could reignite her putter, which has been her Achilles heel since the 2007 season.
5. Se Ri Pak (25/5): From 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all. She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!). She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch. She hasn't been quite that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became a 5-time winner of the Farr in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. With her driver getting back on track in 2009, all she needs in 2010 is for more putts to drop to show the cohort of "Dragon Ladies" inspired by her 1998 U.S. Women's Open victory a thing or 2 about winning on the LPGA. [Update 1 (5/16/10, 11:45 pm: Well, that was quick!]
6. Helen Alfredsson (7/1): Her scoring average in 2009 was her 4th-lowest ever, even better than some from 1992-1995, when she was a fixture on the top 20. As long as she stays healthy, I don't see any reason why she shouldn't notch her 3rd-straight top 40 season in 2010, which would be the 2nd-longest streak of such consistently strong play in her 18-year career on the LPGA.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and now it's motherhood for my fave among the old school Seoul Sisters. She was a regular on the top 10 for her 1st 9 seasons on tour, but the last 2 have been struggles, at least on the course. I'm not optimistic about her chances of adding to her victory total in 2010, but I do think she will return to the top 40 on the money list.
8. Juli Inkster (31/7): Randall Mell reports she's optimistic about her putting from the work she's been putting in with Dave Stockton and has committed to the LPGA's 1st 4 events of the 2010 season. If her stroke holds up under tournament conditions, she could do very well during this trial run at a full schedule. Her ballstriking in 2009 was as good as it was in 2005-2006.
9. Laura Davies (20/4): She still needs 2 more points to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, but Hound Dog's evidence that she's lost her distance advantage over the last several years suggests to me he's right that it's going to be very difficult for her to win again on the LPGA. As usual, she'll be going Down Under early in the season, so let's see if she can rekindle the magic from her great come-from-behind win at last February's Women's Australian Open in 2010.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

10. Rachel Hetherington (8/0): A very badly broken ankle from a skateboarding accident will push the start of her 2010 season back and apparently it's made her start thinking about how long she wants to keep playing professionally. Here's hoping she recovers quickly and rededicates herself to her game--she's one of the few players who can boast about beating Annika more than once in head-to-head competition. From 1999-2004, she was a regular on the top 20 and a top 10 threat; even from 2005-2008, she was typically a top 40 player. One bad season and one big injury should not spell the end of her career. I'd love to see her make a big comeback in 2010!
11. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She's coming back from hip surgery and it's an open question whether she'll pick up where she left off before injuries interrupted her 2008 season, when she had been on a 4-season run in which she had notched 3 victories, including her 2nd Women's British Open. The odds are against her, but even early in her comeback she's already won a senior major, so don't count her out just yet.
12. Meg Mallon (18/4): She's made only 25 cuts in 40 starts over the last 4 seasons, but she still sits at #85 on the 2010 priority status list, thanks to her exercising her Career Top 20 exemption option. Can she turn things around and speed up her run at the LPGA Hall of Fame over the next 2 seasons? The only hopeful sign is that she's improved her accuracy off the tee the last 2 years, but as she's lost almost 10 yards off the tee and maybe more with her irons from her great 2004 season, when she finished 4th on the money list, she just hasn't been giving herself enough good birdie chances to stay competitive on tour lately. Her scoring average has been over 72 since 2005, so it's not looking good for her in 2010.
13. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She's had even more trouble making cuts than Mallon recently (only 4 made cuts in 26 starts over the last 2 seasons), but also retains a good position on the 2010 priority status list (#87), thanks to a Career Top 20 exemption. Unlike Mallon and like Lorie Kane, though, this is the last year she's eligible for it, so let's see if 2010 will be her swan song or the year she put off her last stand for another season.

1 comment:

Mike said...

While it's never a good idea to bet against Lorena, I like Paula and Cristie to get things going again. (At least, if Paula's finally over the health problems.) I think Helen Alfredsson may do it as well; now that she's healthy, I think she's excited about playing.

About Juli Inkster... I will only gloat and say that, last year when she said she was going to back away from the game, I wrote a post where I bluntly said I didn't believe it. I expect her to start winning again this year.