Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Best on the LPGA: 2-Time Winners, November 2010 Edition

Now that the significance of Jimin Kang's come-from-behind win in Kuala Lumpur last month has had time to sink in, let's see where she stands in terms of her likelihood to move on to my 3-to-6-time winners' list this season. Can she join the players who have graduated from my February list of 2-time LPGA winners?

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. In-Kyung Kim: It's shocking to me that Kim hasn't won yet this season. Ever since she told me at Locust Hill that her season's been "on and off," she's been on in a big way. She's only had 3 finishes outside the top 8 since the end of June. In fact, except for a missed cut at the Bell Micro and a T58 at the Navistar--except, that is, for her play in Alabama--she's been in the top 45 in every start this season. Can she tame the hills of Guadalajara next week? And will she play in Dubai after the LPGA Tour Championship to make sure she ends 2010 as the LET's Rookie of the Year? [Update (11/15/10): Great win and even greater gesture in Guadalajara from Kim!]
2. Morgan Pressel: She still hasn't quite had the "breakout 2010" I called for back in February, but she's super-close. She has top 20s in 11 of her last 15 starts and has finished outside the top 40 only twice all season. I wouldn't be surprised to see her walk away with a win in Orlando.
3. Katherine Hull: Including her win in Prattville, she's riding a 5-event top-25 run into Lorena's home town, so I wouldn't put graduating from 2 of my lists this season past her.

The Contenders

4. Michelle Wie: Here's hoping going to classes hasn't put too much of a strain on her back and that her independent study in Malaysia and Korea prepared her to defend her title in Mexico. With her up-and-down season thus far, it's hard to tell which Michelle's going to show up next week.
5. Anna Nordqvist: The LET's '09 Rookie of the Year hasn't had a bad 2010--in fact, it's been much better than most are giving her credit for--but she's been overshadowed by the fantastic play of the LPGA's super-elite. Hound Dog claims her rookie season last year was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall. With top 20s in 3 of her last 5 starts, she may be poised to return to that level of play when she returns to North America.
6. Eun-Hee Ji: Like Inbee Park at the end of last season, she's showing serious signs of putting the U.S. Women's Open jinx behind her. Let's see if she can finish 2010 in as much style as Park did 2009!

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Jimin Kang: Her win in Malaysia, T28 in Korea, and T8 in Japan put her at the top of my "quantum leap" category, just where she was on my 1-time winners' list right before she got win #2. Will she graduate from this list as quickly as she did that one?
8. Christina Kim: She got her putter going for a nice stretch there mid-way through the season, but hasn't been all that sharp of late, although that T6 at Malaysia shows what she's capable of when she's playing well.
9. Stacy Prammanasudh: Even though she still hasn't gotten her driving accuracy back to where it was in 2004-2006, when she was hitting the fairway over 70% of the time, her putter's been more dependable this season and she's poised to start putting herself back in contention if she can just improve her ballstriking.
10. Meena Lee: So far her 2010 has been about the same as her previous 3 seasons, which saw her fall from averaging 1 win and 6 top 10s per year to averaging only about 2 top 10s per year. Unfortunately, her approach shots remain her Achilles heel, but her improvement on that front paid off on the Asian swing with a top 5 in Malaysia and a top 15 in Japan.
11. Jeong Jang: The comeback I predicted for her this season after her wrist surgery was right on schedule until she WDed from the Safeway Classic and didn't start in the Canadian Women's Open. Even after a rest, she missed the cut in NW Arkansas and needed a 67 on Friday to make the cut at the Navistar. After indifferent starts in Malaysia and Korea, she'll have plenty of time to rest before the LPGA Tour Championship rolls around in December.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Ji Young Oh: Looks like my doubts in February--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list...."--were right on target. She's been playing so badly this season that her 5-event made cut streak leading up to the Navistar had been its highlight. Unfortunately, she missed the cut in Alabama and didn't earn enough in northern California to make the Asian swing. Her last chance to salvage 2010 will come next month in Florida.
13. Karen Stupples: So far she hasn't had the "great 2010" I predicted for her. It seems like the 1st full season back from maternity leave is a lot tougher than even an immediate but partial return to competition. Nothing wrong with her ballstriking, but the putts just haven't been dropping. That's why once her season-opening 3-event top-20 run came to an end she didn't get another until last Sunday in Korea. Here's hoping she makes it 2 in a row in Florida next month.
14. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 5 of her 44 career top 10s in the last 5 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game. She'll have one more chance to get her game back on track in a few weeks.
15. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 19 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then, making only 42 of 69 cuts from 2006 to 2009 (and that's using the LPGA's generous policy of not usually counting WDs and DQs toward totals on career bio pages). Well, she's made 10 of 14 cuts this season, but only has 1 top 20 to show for her improved consistency. At #73 on the money list, she'll keep her card for 2011, but she needs to improve her putting to have a hope of contending again on the LPGA.
16. Michele Redman: She hasn't been the top 30 player she was from 2000-2005 for quite some time, but even in that less impressive stretch she's never finished worse than 61st on the money list and ended 2009 ranked #44 on my Best of the LPGA ranking. Back in February, I wrote that "I don't see any signs that she won't continue to add to her total of 76 career top 10s since she joined the LPGA in 1992, but at the slower pace she's set in 2006-2009, when she's averaged just over 1 per season." A T3 in Malaysia salvaged her season and saved her 2011 card. Let's see if she can keep it going next month in Florida.
17. Laura Diaz: She suffered easily the worst season of her LPGA career in 2009, when she couldn't find the fairways off the tee or the hole once she got to the green. She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter has proven quite difficult. However, she had her best finish of the season in Prattville and 2nd-best in Danville; one more good finish in Orlando will guarantee she keeps her card for 2011.
18. Gloria Park: She got a medical exemption after sitting out all of 2009 on a maternity leave, so has stayed at #141 on the priority status list all season. But being one of the newest moms on tour hasn't made her comeback any easier. A pair of T29s and a trio of missed cuts in her last 5 events exemplify her lack of consistency. Now she needs a great finish in Florida next month to avoid Q-School.

On the Outside, Looking In

19. Carin Koch: She notched 56 top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But 2009 was a disaster whenever she took the driver out of her hands and despite being #155 on the current LPGA priority status list, she has stuck by her decision to move back to Sweden and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events this season. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET--but she's not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.
20. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc: She's made 16 of 42 LPGA cuts over the previous 3 seasons before this one and sits at #221 on the priority status list for 2010. She's also curtailed her LET schedule in that same period and doesn't appear on this year's LET money list, so it's looking my guess in February that "she's almost ready to move on from her professional golf career, which dates back to 1994 on the LET" was pretty dead-on.
21. Heather Daly-Donofrio: She's made 16 of 40 cuts over the previous 4 seasons before this one and joined the LPGA's Communications Department in 2009. Even though her daughter is past the terrible 2s, it's pretty clear she's not going to be entering any events this season from #234 on the current priority status list.

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