Monday, July 26, 2010

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

Ji-Yai Shin outduelling Morgan Pressel, Na Yeon Choi, Lexi Thompson, and Suzann Pettersen on Sunday at the Evian Masters means that it's time to update my June ranking of the best players on the LPGA with 7 or more wins, ordered by my take on their likelihood of more coming over the rest of the season.

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. Ji-Yai Shin (7/1): Yeah, she's needs to double her output to catch up to Cristie Kerr in the race to see who the next LPGA Hall of Famer will be, but I'll betcha she's passed Paula Creamer by season's end. Part of it's that it's a lot easier to recover from an emergency appendectomy than thumb surgery, but a lot of it has to do with my feeling that as great as Creamer is and is going to be, Shin will be even greater. [Update (11/7/10): Well, victory #8 for Shin at the Mizuno Classic gives her a chance to repeat as money-list champion and to also win Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy, but she'll need some help from the other top 6 players on tour next week at Lorena's invitational to stay in the hunt.]
2. Cristie Kerr (14/2): Last month, I noted that "Maybe it's her time to make a run at qualifying for the Hall of Fame!" Well, one dominating win at the LPGA Championship later and she now has 16 HOF points. Plus, she's in contention for more via the Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) and Player of the Year title. Sure, she's had her disappointments since winning the LPGA Championship, but with the Women's British Open on tap, I expect to see her contending next week.
3. Paula Creamer (9/1): In mid-June, I wrote, "I think she'll be back among the LPGA's elite when she tees it up again. The only question is when." Well, she returned a couple of days later at the ShopRite, got a top 10, and less than a month after that won the U.S. Women's Open, getting the "Best without a Major" monkey off her back in the process. So the answer was, "Immediately." Earlier this month, I joked, "Can't wait to see what miracles she'll pull off on the European swing. Will she walk across the Atlantic to get there?" Well, there were no heroics at Evian, but maybe Royal Birkdale will suit her better and her thumb will give her less trouble.
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). Take it from me, she's playing well enough this season for her next win to come any given week. [Update (3/7/11): Can't say I'm all that surprised about win #37!]

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 think I was right to say in June that "her chances are improving, even if her GIR rate needs some serious improving."
6. 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. Unfortunately, she's been dealing with injuries this season since winning the Bell Micro, so I don't know when her next win is coming.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Juli Inkster (31/7): When she's been on this season, she's really been on, but inconsistency with her ballstriking has been the main thing holding her back. Still, she's made 10 cuts in 12 starts, gotten 1 top 10, and put herself near the top of the leaderboard on a few occasions before fading. Even though her last 3 starts have been disappointing, don't go counting her out just yet!
8. 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. Back in January, I wrote, "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 slight problem so far is that her T16 this week at Evian was her 1st top 40 of the season. Here's hoping Sunday's 67 is a harbinger of better golf from her the rest of the season.
9. Laura Davies (20/4): Like clockwork, she won Down Under in the early going this season, but then she followed it up with an LET win in mid-May, which is a little better than usual the last few years. Can she translate that into LPGA success? So far, the answer is no, but give her a look at the lead on Sunday and she'll walk away with a win. Wouldn't it be amazing if she got the last 2 Hall of Fame Points she needed with a win at Royal Birkdale this week?
10. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She's won a senior major and made 7 of 9 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. Her best finish this season is a T12 at the ShopRite and she's made 7 cuts in 10 starts, but endurance and consistency remain issues. On the other hand, there's another WBO around the corner.... Right now it seems that her irons and putting are a bit off, but maybe they'll be on at Royal Birkdale.
11. 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. She came back at the State Farm and missed her 1st and only cut at the LPGA Championship, but hasn't played since then. Hope her ankle is ok.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She's only 4 made cuts in 32 starts over the last 2 seasons plus this one, but retains a good position on the 2010 priority status list (#87), thanks to a Career Top 20 exemption. 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 4 cuts and hasn't played since not starting at the LPGA Championship.

On the Outside, Looking In

13. Lorena Ochoa (27/2): 'Nuff said.
14. Meg Mallon (18/4): 'Nuff said.

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