Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up, June 2010 Edition

With Lorena retiring, Paula rehabbing her surgically repaired thumb, and Se Ri and Cristie winning, it's about time I updated my January ranking of the best players on the LPGA with 7 or more wins, ordered by my projections of their likelihood of more coming over the rest of the season.

As I noted before, 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. Cristie Kerr (13/1): Maybe it's her time to make a run at qualifying for the Hall of Fame!
2. 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). This season, she's clicking on all cylinders, hitting a lot of fairways and greens and sinking a lot of putts (look for her 3.65 birdies per round rate to improve) and finishing outside the top 20 only once in 7 starts. I wouldn't be surprised to see her win very soon.
3. 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. Was the Bell Micro a fluke, or will this year's Farr be the site of her 2nd win of '10?
4. 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. I think she'll be back among the LPGA's elite when she tees it up again. The only question is when.

The Contenders

5. 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. In January, I wasn't optimistic about her chances of adding to her victory total this season, but I'm starting to think her chances are improving, even if her GIR rate needs some serious improving.
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. The only problem so far has been with her putter--she's made the cut in all 5 events she started, but this past week's T40 has been her best finish of the season.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Juli Inkster (31/7): When she's been on this season, she's really been on, but inconsistency with her driver has been the main thing holding her back.
8. Laura Davies (20/4): Like clockwork, she won Down Under in the early going, but then she followed it up with an LET win in mid-May. Can she translate that into LPGA success?
9. Rachel Hetherington (8/0): A very badly broken ankle from a skateboarding accident pushed the start of her 2010 season back to this past week and apparently it had made her start thinking about how long she wants to keep playing professionally. Here's hoping she's rededicated 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! -5 in the State Farm Classic is nothing to write home about, but at least she made the cut.
10. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She's won a senior major and made 3 of 5 LPGA cuts post-hip surgery, but it's still 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. If she can get her irons straightened out soon, she may well get back to that level.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

11. Meg Mallon (18/4): She's made only 25 cuts in 44 starts over the last 4 seasons and the start of this one, 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 driving accuracy the last 2 seasons, 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, and with 4 missed cuts in 4 starts in '10, it's not looking good for her thus far.
12. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She's had even more trouble making cuts than Mallon recently (only 4 made cuts in 29 starts over the last 2 seasons plus this one), 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. So far she's missed 3 cuts in 3 starts this season....

On the Outside, Looking In

13. Lorena Ochoa (27/2): 'Nuff said.

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