Monday, November 15, 2010

One Week Will Decide Who's Had the Best 2010 on the LPGA

In-Kyung Kim's win in Guadalajara helps make clear how "on" she's been since the LPGA Championship, as she became the 8th player this season to join the Million Dollar Club. But she'll need to make it 2 in a row next month in Orlando to decisively join the tour's true elite in 2010. For as great as the bottom 7 on this list's seasons have been, I'm including them here mainly to set off how utterly fantastic the top 6 are.

1. Na Yeon Choi $1.81M (2 wins in 22 starts, 174 Player of the Year points, 69.77 scoring average, 4.28 birdies per round)
2. Ji-Yai Shin $1.78M (2/18 starts, 170, 69.95, 4.00)
3. Ya Ni Tseng $1.56M (3/18, 2 majors, 188, 70.48, 3.85)
4. Suzann Pettersen $1.53M (0/18, 134, 69.92, 3.84)
5. Cristie Kerr $1.51M (2/20, 1 major, 173, 69.86, 4.24)
6. Ai Miyazato $1.45M (5/20, 179, 70.48, 4.03)
7. Song-Hee Kim $1.18M (0/21, 104, 70.07, 3.97)
8. In-Kyung Kim $1.12M (1/20, 116, 70.46, 3.81)
9. Michelle Wie $.89M (1/19, 62, 71.34, 3.56)
10. Paula Creamer $.88M (1/13, 1 major, 78, 70.77, 3.54)
11. Inbee Park $.83M (0/19, 62, 70.83, 3.46)
12. Katherine Hull $.77M (1/23, 66, 71.33, 3.34)
13. Morgan Pressel $.74M (0/22, 40, 70.96, 3.64)

The money-list race is down to the top 2. Can Ji-Yai Shin make it 2 seasons in a row on top or will Na Yeon Choi instead snag the Hall of Fame point at stake in this race?

The Player of the Year race is down to the top 5 in POY points. I wonder how the LPGA would break the tie if Ji-Yai Shin were to win the LPGA Tour Championship and Ya Ni Tseng were to come in 2nd? Or would we have co-POYs? A win by any of the top 4 would earn her the Hall of Fame point at stake in this race. Ai Miyazato is the only one chasing Tseng who could win it with a 2nd-place finish, although she'd need a lot of help from Tseng in that case.

The Vare Trophy race is down to the top 4 players, all of whom have scoring averages under 70. Unless the LPGA fails to waive or reduce its "70 rounds" requirement for eligibility, that is. They should follow Hound Dog's excellent suggestion:

There HAS to be a minimum to prevent somebody with 20 rounds played beating out a player with 80. I'm saying the rule should read something like this: "The minimum number of rounds to qualify will be 2.5 times the number of stroke-play events in that season or 70, whichever number is less." Under that rule, this year's number would be 57.5 (actually 58) and any year with 28 or more stroke-play events would use 70. JNT’s suggestion of 75% of the total rounds is a good one too.

BTW, if the schedule were less than 18 events (less than 19 if more than two were 54-hole events), it would be impossible to reach 70 rounds!

It's not just the number of events on the schedule, however; it's also the number of 3-rounders! The ShopRite, the Safeway, the P&G, Sime Darby, the Hana, and the Mizuno are a significant proportion of the total schedule this year. I'd hate to see someone other than Na Yeon Choi or Cristie Kerr get the lowest scoring average and not win the trophy this season, especially with injuries limiting Ji-Yai Shin's and Suzann Pettersen's playing opportunities.

I've been tracking the birdie rate race since I started doing this series because I think it's the best single indicator of who has the game to win on tour--and to win repeatedly. You have to go back to 2004 and 2006 to find years when there were 4 players averaging 4 or more birdies per round. If Song-Hee Kim gets back on track in Orlando and the other 4 keep making birdies like they have been all season, we'll have 5 in 2010.

Seeing how these 4 season-long races end up may help us figure out who's had the best 2010 in all. But probably not. Consider that 2 of the most consistently excellent performers all year--Suzann Pettersen and Song-Hee Kim--have been unable to get a win. By contrast, the most prolific winners--Ai Miyazato and Ya Ni Tseng--have been the most inconsistent. The trio of 2-time winners--Na Yeon Choi, Ji-Yai Shin, and Cristie Kerr--have the most impressive stats across the board, so maybe it ought to come down to them?

Let's put it this way.
  • If Na Yeon Choi wins the LPGA Tour Championship, she'll sweep all 4 of the LPGA's major season-long races and would certainly get my vote.
  • If Ji-Yai Shin wins and beats Choi badly enough to also overtake her in scoring average as well as winnings, she'd get my vote, as she would have won 3 of the 4 races I've been tracking. Even taking "only" the POY and money-list lead would probably be enough in my book.
  • If Cristie Kerr wins, takes POY, and beats Choi badly enough to take the Vare Trophy and pass her in birdie rate, she'd have won 3 of the 4 season-long races. But if Choi were to hold onto the Vare Trophy and the birdie-rate lead, I'd probably call it a draw between them.
  • If Ya Ni Tseng were to make it 4 wins this year, her 2 majors along with her POY trophy would give her my vote--even if Choi, Shin, or Kerr managed to win 2 or even 3 of the other season-long races.
  • If Ai Miyazato were to join Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, and Karrie Webb among active players in the 6-win-season club and take POY in the process, it would be hard to deny her--even if Choi were to win the other 3 races.
So it comes down to these 5 players for Mostly Harmless LPGAer of the Year, with all due apologies to Suzann Pettersen. Even if she were to win and end up with the lowest scoring average on tour in 2010, I couldn't put her ahead of really any of the top 5. Somebody else winning would muddy the waters even further, so that's probably what'll happen....

[Update 1 (9:14 am): Here's a breakdown of the key Hall-of-Fame-points-bearing races from bangkokbobby, complete with charts and photos. He also looks at the tops in top 10 percentage. Highly recommended!]

[Update 2 (11/17/10, 8:18 am): Neat observation by Mike Southern on how highly ranked Suzann Pettersen is despite not winning anywhere in the world since late 2009.]

[Update 3 (8:32 am): Here's's rundown of the key races.]

[Update 4 (6:18 pm): Hound Dog runs through all the POY scenarios. Great job, HD!]

[Update 5 (11/18/10, 8:02 pm): Hound Dog breaks down the race for the Vare Trophy between Na Yeon Choi and Cristie Kerr.]

[Update 6 (11/19/10, 2:58 pm): Here's's breakdown of the money-list showdown between Choi and Shin.]

[Update 7 (3:48 am): And here's The Armchair Golfer with a little suggestion about a name change for the LPGA based on the closeness of all their key races.]


Mike said...

This is going to be a really tight finish. I thought maybe we'd have a clear favorite for most of the races, but for the most part it just hasn't happened.

I think Choi is the favorite for the Vare. Unless Kerr has another major performance or Choi collapses, I don't see Kerr winning this one.

I don't know how the money breaks down by position at the Tour Championship, but I'd put my money on Choi. I'm thinking a Top 5 finish may be enough and, again, unless she collapses...

As for that POY race... as much as I've been pulling for Kerr, I'd have to say Miyazato looks like the best bet. She and Tseng are both erratic, as you noted, but Ai is less so... and those two are the only ones who could conceivably win with a 2nd-place finish.

The real wild card here for me is Kerr. She's the only player (in contention for these awards, that is) who has demonstrated an ability to blow everybody away; Ai is probably the next "most explosive" player. With the races this close, I think it's going to take a blowout performance for one player to win more than two of them.

I'm still looking for Kerr to do something magical in the last event... but I think Creamer may be the spoiler and take the title. That will really turn these races into a melee!

courtgolf said...

How about pulling a complete CBS on this - Who had the best 2010 on the LPGA Tour ? THE FANS ! It's practically impossible to pick between the top 5 for "best season", but the fans definitely had a great season watching.