So who didn't make my lists of Most Likely to Break Through and The Contenders at the Kraft Nabisco Championship? (Note: As before, the numbers in parentheses after each player's name list the number of LPGA wins--non-member wins are marked with a *--and the number of international wins--on the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET only.)
Quantum Leap Candidates
14. Sandra Gal (1/0): Yeah, she's never cracked the top 30 in a major in 11 tries, but the KNC will be the 10th in a row she's competed in, she made the cut there and got her 2nd-best finish in a major last year, and of course she's coming off a world-beating performance at a course that prepared her well for Mission Hills. A hot hand can only take you so far, but I wouldn't be surprised if she radically improves on her previous best finish in a major, a T33 at the '09 Women's British Open.
15. Kristy McPherson (0/0): She's another player whose performance in '10 majors accounts for most of the winnings deficit compared to her '09 campaign. Even during that cold spell, though, she still snagged a top 20 at Oakmont. Now that she's had more time to recover from off-season surgery, I'm looking for her to turn things around in '11. But probably not this week at the KNC.
16. Brittany Lang (0/0): She's finished inside the top 40 in 9 of her last 12 majors (the only real blemish being a missed cut at the '08 WBO; she just missed top 40s twice last season to go with her 2 top 10s, including her being in contention for awhile at Oakmont). She still hasn't improved on her T2 finish (with fellow then-amateur Morgan Pressel) in the 2005 U.S. Women's Open that Birdie Kim won with a walkoff slam dunk from the sand, but she's long and straight enough to contend in any major and has a great record at Mission Hills, never finishing worse than 21st. I'd rank her a lot higher if she weren't mired in the 2nd serious slump of her career.
17. Jee Young Lee (1*/2): From the 2nd major of 2006 to the 1st of 2009, her worst finish in a major was a T22. But like Wie, she's been struggling recently in them, although she could still sneak a T25 out of Oakmont. Her best finish in a major was a T2 at the '07 WBO, so I'm hoping she starts her comeback this week from whatever derailed the end of last season and delayed the start of this one. She's got the length to conquer Mission Hills, but does she have the accuracy, the touch, and the ability to perform under pressure yet?
The Best of the Rest
18. Shanshan Feng (0/0): If she hasn't even cracked the top 50 in any of her 11 starts in majors and is 0 for 1 in even making the cut at the KNC, why am I even putting her on this list? First, she's coming out of a slump; second, she's a relatively long hitter on the LPGA; and third, she's shown signs of being a very good putter.
19. Vicky Hurst (0/0): Speaking of long hitters, Hurst is among the very longest on the LPGA. Even though she hasn't yet been able to surpass her best finish in a major, which came in '09 WBO (T28), she has made the cut in 5 majors in a row and counting. Sure, she's off to a somewhat rocky start in 2011, but give her time. She's slower out of the gate than Ya Ni Tseng, but I don't see why she can't turn into that same kind of bomber.
20. Momoko Ueda (1*/8): Her knee injuries last year derailed a 10-major made-cut streak, but she came back from 2 MCs in a row in majors with a top 10 at the WBO. She doesn't have a great record at the KNC, never having cracked the top 25 at Mission Hills, but she's got the length to make her mark there and few players can go on birdie runs like she can. It's just a question of whether she can play solidly when she's not in the zone. She's shown some signs in 2011 of coming out of her slump, so maybe this will be the year she breaks through. Maybe.
21. Natalie Gulbis (1/0): Don't laugh--she's got a bronze and 2 other top 20s at the KNC. From late 2004 through the 2006 season, she made the top 20 in majors 9 times in a row, including a run of T5, T4, T8, and T3 in 1 calendar year from the LPGA Championship to the KNC. Her last 2 majors have been T25 at Locust Hill and T14 at Oakmont, so she's headed in the right direction again, and the back injuries that kept her from playing Royal Birkdale seem to be in abeyance. Plus, she's off to a good start in 2011...
22. Sophie Gustafson (5/18): Compared to 4 top 10s in a 7-major run from the end of 2005 to the middle of 2007, her recent campaigns haven't produced as many great finishes, but she is coming off a T10 in last year's KNC and didn't miss a cut in a major that year for the 1st time since 2000. Her best finish at the KNC is a T7 way back in 2001. Even though she's plenty long to tame Mission Hills, she plays roller-coaster golf and usually has too many big numbers to end up on top. Will this year be different?
23. Hee Young Park (0/4): Speaking of mercurial golfers, she's the kind of fearless, aggressive, and unfortunately inconsistent player who you wouldn't expect to play all that well in the majors. But her best finishes are T9 at the '09 U.S. Women's Open, a T11 at the '09 WBO, and a T15 at the '10 KNC. Let's see if she can get back on track in this year's KNC!
24. Hee-Won Han (6/2): Back when she was among the very best players in the world from 2003-2006, she had 10 top 25s in the majors. Plus, 3 of her best 4 career finishes in them have actually come since her son Dale was born, including a T6 at the windy '09 KNC (the 2nd in her last 4 starts there) and a T9/T3 combo in the '08 and '09 WBOs. So even though she's been playing way below her peak capabilities lately, count her out at your own risk!
25. Christina Kim (2/0): She's coming off a T8 at the '10 U.S. Women's Open and a T9 at the '10 WBO (following up a T3 there on '09), so even though she's gotten off to a terrible start in '11, never count her out in a major--or in a Solheim Cup year. She gets up for big events!
26. M.J. Hur (1/0): She's due to start making some noise in majors soon, having made 5 of her 7 cuts in them and come close to breaking into the top 30 in her last 3 of them. But she'll need to improve her ballstriking so she can take better advantage of her excellent putting to do so.
27. Candie Kung (4/0): Her solo 2nd to Eun-Hee Ji at the '09 U.S. Women's Open was the best performance in a major of her career, but let's not forget that from late 2002 through 2006, she was a regular in the top 30, finishing inside it in 10 of 17 starts, including 7 top 10s and 2 top 5s in that run. I'm not seeing anything that would lead me to believe she's a likely contender at Mission Hills, but if she can get a T28 at Oakmont last year in such a "blah" season for her, I wonder what she's capable of if she starts playing well this week? She did finish T8 and T9 in 2004 and 2005 at the KNC....
28. Mi Hyun Kim (8/11): In one sense, she's probably the player most overdue for a major on the LPGA, having averaged well over a top 10 per season in them over her 1st 10 on tour. Unfortunately, injuries and motherhood have knocked her off her game and she's off to a terrible start in 2011.
The Watch List
Yuri Fudoh, Chie Arimura, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yukari Baba, Jennifer Song, Hee Kyung Seo, So Yeon Ryu, Azahara Munoz, Belen Mozo, Mindy Kim, Lee-Anne Pace, Melissa Reid