Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Best of the LPGA: June 2010 Edition

The State Farm Classic is here, so it's time to update my end-of-year ranking of the Best of the LPGA. As usual, I'll be combining the LPGA money list (through the Sybase Match Play Championship), Hound Dog's latest ranking (which focuses exclusively on LPGA performances and results from 2010 and 2009), the June 7th Rolex Rankings (which assigns points based on results over the last 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour), and the June 6th Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (which ranks players based on finishes over the last 52 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour) to divide LPGA players into tiers, then using my own judgment to rank them within each tier. It's the Mostly Harmless answer to the BCS--only less hated! (Probably only because it's much much less well known.)

With Lorena Ochoa removed from the Rolex Rankings at her request but still listed in the other 3 measures I combine, I'm going to keep her in my system, like I did for Annika Sorenstam when she stepped away from the LPGA. I'm probably not the only one hoping they decide to come back to competitive golf, but for now we're entering a new era where #1 is up for grabs, particularly now that the current leader in both the Rolex and Golfweek rankings is out of action for at least a month.

1. Ai Miyazato: #1 money ($605.2K), #1 HD, #2 RR (9.04), #5 GSPI (69.32). Due to her 4 LPGA wins in the last calendar year, Ai-sama gets the nod over Ji-Yai Shin. Once Shin recovers from her emergency appendectomy, I expect this race to remain tight, as both will be duelling across 2 tours, the LPGA and JLPGA, all season long.
2. Ji-Yai Shin: #5 money ($395.5K), #2 HD, #1 RR (9.24), #1 GSPI (68.86). She was my pick for best in the world of women's golf last year--can she repeat again this year? It all comes down to wins! But how much of the heart of the LPGA's schedule will she miss? And what kind of shape will she be in when she rejoins the tour on the European swing?
3. Suzann Pettersen: #2 money ($512.9K), #5 HD, #3 RR (8.88), #3 GSPI (69.22). Speaking of wins, how close has Pettersen been coming lately? She is so due to break out! But she, too, has injury issues to deal with, both nagging and chronic.
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #3 money ($505.9K), #4 HD, #4 RR (8.57), #10 GSPI (69.56). Let's see: she's already #1 in her class and her next comes her tour, right? It's within her reach! And she'll have a lot less jet lag to deal with than Miyazato and Shin....
5. Cristie Kerr: #7 money ($299.7K), #6 HD, #5 RR (7.43), #4 GSPI (69.23). Let's see if she can do this year what she couldn't do last year--become the 1st American to lead the LPGA in well over a decade.
6. Lorena Ochoa: #17 money ($176.5K), #3 HD, n.r. RR (#2 [9.20] as of 5/3/10); #6 GSPI (69.35). I still don't believe she's gone for good, but pretty soon she'll disappear from this list, just like Annika did before her. I'm still devastated.
7. Na Yeon Choi: #14 money ($202.4K), #7 HD, #10 RR (5.87), #2 GSPI (69.12). Maybe the most underrated player among the LPGA's elite--except by Hound Dog and me, of course (and Golfweek)!
8. Song-Hee Kim: #6 money ($347.6K), #8 HD, #11 RR (5.62), #7 GSPI (69.40): Her face appears in the dictionary under "due," as in "due for that 1st win any week now"!
9. Angela Stanford: #7 money ($324.6K), #9 HD, #9 RR (6.46), #16 GSPI (70.05). Not a good sign when you're ranked far lower in the GSPI than the RR--it usually means that you were playing your best golf at least a year ago. But Stanford's got the kind of game that can put her in contention any given week.
10. Michelle Wie: #12 money ($224.2K), #10 HD, #7 RR (6.58), #9 GSPI (69.48). Still a work in progress, but capable of a breakthrough any time.

Right behind the top 10 with the best shot at being #1 at season's end, there are a bunch of very good players with a top 10 in at most 2 of the 4 systems and/or top 20s in at least 3 of them:

11. Anna Nordqvist: #26 money ($99.6K), #11 HD, #6 RR (6.62), #12 GSPI (69.83). The LET's '09 ROY is having a little bit of a slow start to the season, even though she did win the Mojo6 and her worst finish came when she was bounced from the Sybase in the 1st round, so no worries. Well, if she dsn't get her driving going soon, there may be some.
12. Karrie Webb: #15 money ($181.6K), #12 HD, #8 RR (6.54), #13 GSPI (69.84). Very quiet since her early win Down Under, if by 2 top 5s in 6 starts you mean quiet--and you do when you're talking about a Hall of Famer. If her putter heats up, watch out for her.
13. In-Kyung Kim: #19 money ($153.4K), #13 HD, #12 RR (5.54), #28 GSPI (70.60). Off to a disappointing start in 2010, but defending her State Farm Classic title should be good motivation to get in gear.
14. Catriona Matthew: #20 money ($135.4K), #14 HD, #18 RR (4.25), #14 GSPI (70.03). This new mom just keeps exceeding expectations--4 top 20s in her 5 starts this season, including a T5 and a T6. Although she couldn't defend her unofficial title in Brazil, watch out for her any given week.
15. Paula Creamer: n.r. money ($0), #15 HD, #13 RR (5.43), #8 GSPI (69.46). Everyone's eagerly awaiting her return from thumb surgery.
16. Morgan Pressel: #22 money ($122.3K), #18 HD, #17 RR (4.32), #17 GSPI (70.06). She's got a JLPGA major under her belt already this year and is quite ready to add to her LPGA hardware.

Compared to the end of last season, there are a heck of a lot more players with at most 2 top 20s and/or at least 3 top 30s thus far this season:

17. Sun Young Yoo: #4 money ($431.0K), #16 HD, #21 RR (3.89), #27 GSPI (70.57). Her impressive march through the Sybase brackets moves this late bloomer within shouting distance of the LPGA's elite. Having beaten most of them to get her 1st career win, what will she do for an encore?
18. Inbee Park: #10 money ($241.3K), #31 HD, #15 RR (4.79), #23 GSPI (70.41). Playing great on the JLPGA and pretty darn well on the LPGA, too. I'd say she's shaken her Open jinx just in time to win another one.
19. Brittany Lincicome: #16 money ($178.8K), #19 HD, #22 RR (3.87), #44 GSPI (71.25). She continues to exceed my expectations, but to move up this list she'll need more finishes like her T2 in the Bell Micro and fewer like getting bounced in the 1st round of the Sybase the very next tournament.
20. Kristy McPherson: #30 money ($80.8K), #20 HD, #24 RR (3.59), #20 GSPI (70.20). She's putting very well, but needs to give herself more birdie chances to vault into the game's elite (where she belongs).
21. Se Ri Pak: #9 money ($241.7K), #29 HD, #25 RR (3.58), #47 GSPI (71.38). Win #25 was a long time coming--I doubt she'll have to wait as long for #26. Maybe the prospect of passing Ochoa will provide that extra spark to her game! What's scary is that she's played as well as she has this season without even driving or putting the ball particularly well. Going from that clutch playoff win at the Bell Micro to being bounced in the Sybase's 1st round, however, shows that she needs everything working to move up this list, not just her irons.
22. Maria Hjorth: #24 money ($110.9K), #21 HD, #30 RR (3.24), #19 GSPI (70.17). Back from maternity leave and driving the ball fantastically. When her approach shots and putter are going, she's a threat to win. When not, she's capable of missing cuts, as she did at the Bell Micro. Let's see if she can take better advantae of the opportunities her driving is giving her.
23. Amy Yang: #11 money ($226.2K), #23 HD, #41 RR (2.73), #24 GSPI (70.46). She's due for a win soon. I just have a feeling.
24. Jee Young Lee: #13 money ($216.2K), #22 HD, #38 RR (2.85), #35 GSPI (71.09). Ditto.
25. Momoko Ueda: #25 money ($101.0K), #24 HD, #28 RR (3.34), #21 GSPI (70.34). Made a cryptic comment recently about her knee injury--something about being married to it, or something--which might help explain why she hasn't been performing to her (or my) expectations thus far this year. Let's hope she builds momentum in the JLPGA's Suntory Ladies Open this week and cmes back to the States ready to roll.
26. Katherine Hull: #29 money ($84.5K), #30 HD, #29 RR (3.30), #40 GSPI (71.17). Speaking of not playing to expectations, it was just a little while ago that Hull was looking to replace Webb as the Head Aussie in Charge on the LPGA. Not any more. Still, with the Sybase 1st-round loss giving her her worst finish of the year, it's not like she's playing terribly. Just not yet doing what it takes to move up this list.

A good number of players have at most 2 top 30s and/or at least 3 top 40s:

27. Brittany Lang: #33 money ($73.6K), #17 HD, #31 RR (3.18), #30 GSPI (70.71). Despite leading the tour in GIR, her putter's been sabotaging her thus far this season!
28. Sophie Gustafson: #43 money ($55.1K), #26 HD, #27 RR (3.42), #32 GSPI (70.85). The '09 LET money leader hasn't been setting the world on fire as of yet, but she gets up for big events, and we've got a bunch of those coming up.
29. Seon Hwa Lee: #38 money ($61.1K), #28 HD, #47 RR (2.39), #29 GSPI (70.69). With problems in both her approach shots and with her putting, she's had indifferent starts to both her JLPGA and LPGA seasons--let's see if she can get into gear the rest of the seasn, on both tours!
30. Eun-Hee Ji: #66 money ($25.7K), #25 HD, #33 RR (3.08), #74 GSPI (72.07). That gap between the RR and GSPI is the clearest evidence that she hasn't yet shaken the Open jinx.
31. Hee Young Park: #27 money ($90.1K), #27 HD, #36 RR (2.96), #66 GSPI (71.79). Another troubling gap between RR and GSPI rankings, but at least she's making her share of birdies. Once The Rocket remembers how to kick it into that super-low gear, she'll be moving up this ranking--and fast.
32. Juli Inkster: #34 money ($73.1K), #33 HD, #56 RR (1.97), #36 GSPI (71.10). The wily veteran is playing well, although probably not as well as she hoped she would be doing at this point in the season, in any aspect of her game.
33. Lindsey Wright: #86 money ($17.2K), #32 HD, #34 RR (3.05), #37 GSPI (71.11). She's been MIA for quite some time (since the 1st LPGA majr of the year, in fact)--coming back from an injury?

A large number of players have at most 2 top 40s and/or at least 3 top 50s:

34. Stacy Lewis: #18 money ($169.7K), #35 HD, #42 RR (2.73), #41 GSPI (71.19). Watch out for her--she's starting to play up to her potential.
35. Candie Kung: #21 money ($127.5K), #42 HD, #40 RR (2.74), #52 GSPI (71.55). Hanging in there, but not playing all that great. Still, her T3 at the Kia Classic shows what she capable of.
36. Hee-Won Han: #36 money ($71.5K), #34 HD, #48 RR (2.36), #55 GSPI (71.57). Has shown some flashes of that old-time brilliance. With a birthday coming up this week, let's see if she can give herself something to celebrate.
37. Karen Stupples: #23 money ($120.0K), #39 HD, #54 RR (2.03), #58 GSPI (71.63). Her official rankings haven't caught up with how well she's been playing lately. Watch out for her! She's on fire.
38. Vicky Hurst: #35 money ($71.6K), #36 HD, #60 RR (1.87), #62 GSPI (71.72). Kind of hanging around all season and not ding much good lately, but due to get back on track any time now.
39. M.J. Hur: #40 money ($58.4K), #45 HD, #46 RR (2.44), #59 GSPI (71.64). Beating Ai Miyazato in the 2nd round of the Sybase (when Ai-sama shot a 67!) was the highlight of her season. Let's see if she can translate that into more stroke-play success.
40. Shanshan Feng: #31 money ($80.1K), #44 HD, #78 RR (1.49), #94 GSPI (72.36). Playing--and putting--very well in 2010. Looks like her slump from last season is finally over.
41. Azahara Munoz: #28 money ($84.7K), #69 HD, #88 RR (1.33), #39 GSPI (71.17). The highest-ranked rookie on my list, she's already got a non-member LET win under her belt. She's ready to win on any tour.

There's a good-sized group with at most 2 top 50s and/or at least 3 top 60s:

42. Pat Hurst: #41 money ($56.2K), #40 HD, #64 RR (1.70), #71 GSPI (71.95). That win last year didn't jump-start her career. Let's see if she can get fired up this summer.
43. Kyeong Bae: #45 money ($48.3K), #47 HD, #72 RR (1.62), #56 GSPI (71.60). Making birdies at a decent rate, but not doing anything exceptionally well as of yet. Still, that's light-years ahead of where she was for most of last season.
44. Sandra Gal: #47 money ($46.9K), #52 HD, #79 RR (1.48), #43 GSPI (71.25). Off to an indifferent start this season, let's see if she can start playing better this summer.
45. Karine Icher: #37 money ($69.9K), #46 HD, #93 RR (1.25), #61 GSPI (71.68). Off to a pretty darn good start this season. Can she build on that momentum this summer?
46. Helen Alfredsson: #83 money ($17.5K), #41 HD, #44 RR (2.58), #65 GSPI (71.74). Slipping in the rankings, but capable of going low any given day.
47. Wendy Ward: #46 money ($47.3K), #43 HD, #70 RR (1.64), #109 GSPI (72.53). Got off to a terrible start this season, but came roaring back--at least for a few rounds here and there. She's a player who will definitely benefit from more regular play.
48. Stacy Prammanasudh: #55 money ($218.0K), #53 HD, #86 RR (1.35), #46 GSPI (71.34). Great to see her back in the top 50. She's got the kind of gap between the RR and GSPI ranking everyone coming back from a slump wants to see.
49. Mika Miyazato: #49 money ($48.6K), #55 HD, #49 RR (2.29), #104 GSPI (72.49). She had a chance to win the Japan Women's Open last year, until she blew up on Sunday. It's taken her some time to shake off the disappointment, but I'm thinking it's about time for her to get it going again.
50. Shi Hyun Ahn: #58 money ($32.3K), #60 HD, #89 RR (1.33), #48 GSPI (71.44). Not doing anything all that special in 2010 yet (in only 4 starts), but definitely on the upswing in the last calendar year.

There's also a good-sized group with at most 2 top 60s and/or at least 3 top 70s:

51. Michele Redman: #70 money ($21.5K), #55 HD, #61 RR (1.82), #49 GSPI (71.45).
52. Amanda Blumenherst: #32 money ($75.4K), n.r. HD, #82 RR (1.42), #53 GSPI (71.56).
53. Meena Lee: #57 money ($37.2K), #49 HD, #83 RR (1.39), #68 GSPI (71.91).
54. Christina Kim: #52 money ($42.3K), #50 HD, #65 RR (1.67), #75 GSPI (72.08).
55. Teresa Lu: #50 money ($44.9K), #51 HD, #77 RR (1.51), #87 GSPI (72.25).
56. Janice Moodie: #54 money ($41.0K), #47 HD, #85 RR (1.35), #83 GSPI (72.16).
57. Eunjung Yi: #49 money ($45.0K), #59 HD, #58 RR (1.91), #91 GSPI (72.30).
58. Haeji Kang: #39 money ($60.0K), #54 HD, #108 RR (1.05), #84 GSPI (72.18).
59. Meaghan Francella: #53 money ($41.0K), #58 HD, #91 RR (1.30), #122 GSPI (72.78).
60. Laura Davies: #89 money ($15.6K), n.r. HD, #50 RR (2.21), #60 GSPI (71.68).

And here are the players with at most 2 top 70s and/or at least 3 top 80s:

61. Natalie Gulbis: #75 money ($19.2K), #37 HD, #75 RR (1.55), #69 GSPI (71.92).
62. Jeong Jang: #63 money ($28.7K), #64 HD, #95 RR (1.23), #86 GSPI (72.23).
63. Jane Park: #67 money ($25.6K), #66 HD, #110 RR (1.01), #72 GSPI (72.00).
64. Jimin Kang: #51 money ($43.9K), #68 HD, #105 RR (1.10), #115 GSPI (72.63).
65. Paige Mackenzie: #78 money ($18.7K), #65 HD, #129 RR (.84), #67 GSPI (71.81).
66. Mindy Kim: #60 money ($29.6K), #61 HD, #166 RR (.66), #80 GSPI (72.14).
67. Mi Hyun Kim: #69 money ($22.9K), #63 HD, #158 RR (.70), #123 GSPI (72.94).
68. Alena Sharp: #61 money ($29.2K), #70 HD, #144 RR (.78), #113 GSPI (72.58).
69. Chella Choi: #90 money ($15.2K), #67 HD, #175 RR (.62), #50 GSPI (71.46).

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