1 may be the loneliest number, but I'll bet those on this list of the LPGA's 1-time winners are happy to be off the Best Without a Win list. By the same token, those on that list may want to avoid making their 1st win the U.S. Women's Open, the Safeway, the Farr, the State Farm, or any event in Mexico. (It's looking like the Corning Classic's demise will spare 1st-time winners that particular jinx, unless the rumors of its potential revival come true.) You'll see what I mean when you check out these profiles (which, sadly, I haven't updated since last October), ranked in part by career achievements and mostly by what I expect from them over the rest of the 2011 season.
Most Likely to Win in 2011
1. Stacy Lewis: She's not only 1 of the hottest players on the LPGA right now, having followed up her Kraft Nabisco Championship victory over world #1 Ya Ni Tseng with a top 5 in the Avnet and a top 10 at the Sybase, she's also one of the most consistent, never having finished outside the top 30 in 2011.
2. Sun Young Yoo: I still believe the sky's the limit for this late-blooming '06er. She's got a classic straight shooter game (think Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, and so on). If she can play better on the weekends and putt better from here on out, she'll give herself a lot of chances to graduate from this list this season.
3. Inbee Park: She's been concentrating on the JLPGA of late, where she won their season-opening event and is currently 5th on their money list, but her good play in Japan hasn't been translating well to the LPGA as of yet, and she's not playing this week at the Sybase.
4. Momoko Ueda: Although she couldn't take the JLPGA's 1st major a few Sundays ago, she now has 4 top 10s in 7 starts there and is currently #11 on their money list, so I'm looking for her to come back to the States with some confidence and momentum.
5. Sandra Gal: Her worst finish of the year came in her 1st event, but T26 is nothing to sneeze at and her other finishes were all top 15s, including her breakthrough win at the Kia where she outduelled Ji-Yai Shin on a Sunday and her best-ever finish in a major, T15 at the KNC. I'd say she's for real.
6. Jee Young Lee: Just as she started to play really good golf again, it appears she got hurt late last season and its effects seem to have carried over into this one. She just made her 1st LPGA cut of 2011 at the Avnet, but got bounced out of the Sybase in the 1st round. Hopefully she's getting healthier for the LPGA's late spring and early summer.
Quantum Leap Candidates
7. Hee Kyung Seo: A 3rd-round 65 at the Avnet not only helped her to her 1st top 10 of 2011 but also showed what the '10 Kia Classic champion and '11 Rookie of the Year race leader is capable of.
8. M.J. Hur: She hasn't done anything all that special since her top 10 in Thailand to kick the season off, but her strong putting has kept her from falling off a cliff. She'll need to improve her tee shots to move up or graduate from this list, however.
9. Beatriz Recari: Dating back to the end of last season, she's made 11 of 12 cuts, a sharp improvement on last year's overall record, when she made only 5 cuts in 15 starts. She still needs to capitalize better on her excellent driving, however, with more greens hit, more birdie chances, and more made putts, before she can think about moving up or off this list.
10. Natalie Gulbis: Recurring back problems since her 2007 Evian Masters playoff victory over Jeong Jang have dropped her back where she was in her 1st 3 seasons on the LPGA--a player who makes her share of cuts but has trouble cracking the top 10. In fact, 24 of her top 10s and all 7 of her top 3s came between 2005 and 2007, when she was a regular on the top 20 of the money list. It seems like every season since then starts with a lot of optimism about the state of her back. With 6 made cuts in 7 starts and a driving average over 250 yards thus far, this season is no exception, but let's see if she can stay healthy all year.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
11. Julieta Granada: Has she finally started to emerge from the long slump that threatened her ability to hold onto her LPGA membership the last few seasons? She's missed the cut 3 times already in 2011, but the 2 times she made it, she ended up with top 10s! 1 more and she matches her 2007 total; 5 more and she matches her rookie season's total....
12. Shi Hyun Ahn: Like Jee Young Lee and Momoko Ueda, her only LPGA win comes with an asterisk, as she got it as a KLPGA member in 2003, but since then she's played roughly 20 events on the LPGA each year, garnering 27 top 10s in the process, with only 3 of them coming since the end of the 2007 season. Whereas she was a regular on the top 30 of the money list over her 1st 4 seasons, she's slipped into the 50s and 60s in recent years. And she's started 2011 super-frigidly, with a WD at the Avnet the low point of a year in which she has yet to break par and her normally-reliable putter has been repeatedly failing her.
13. Meaghan Francella: She shocked the golf world with a win over Annika Sorenstam on the 4th playoff hole at the 2007 MasterCard Classic, but Annika's announcement a little later that season that she had been suffering significant back and neck injuries for some time put a little asterisk by that victory. To make matters worse, Francella had to deal with injury issues of her own over the next season and a half, but the Senior Standout bounced back in 2009 by getting her 5th and 6th top 10s on tour, breaking the 73 barrier in scoring average for the 1st time in her career, and returning to the top 50 of both the money list and my Best of the LPGA ranking. She continued her comeback in 2010 with a top 10 at the LPGA Championship and stayed in the top 60 of both the money list and my ranking, despite her approach shots and expecially her putting holding her back. So far this season she's made 4 of 5 cuts but hasn't yet cracked the top 20.
14. Leta Lindley: Injuries curtailed her schedule in 2009, not even allowing her to defend her 2008 Corning Classic title. But as that win gives her high-priority status through this season, she could afford the terrible spring and summer she had and take solace in her ability to break 70 in the fall of 2010. Let's see if she can add to her total of 33 career top 10s, this season. She's hitting the fairways over 78% of the time, but not doing much else all that great in the stop-and-start segment of the LPGA's schedule, but she has made 3 cuts in 4 starts and the ShopRite features one of the shortest courses on tour.
15. Heather Bowie Young: She won at the Farr in 2005 and has collected 26 top 10s since joining the LPGA in 2000. 2010 was her 2nd season in a row without 1, but she did improve from 2009 (when her made-cut rate plummeted to the lowest of her career) and has full status in 2011, despite playing in only 16 events, the smallest number of starts in a season in her career. So far this season, she's been hitting the ball great but been putting terribly. Still, she's gotten 2 top 25s already in official events and was leading in Brazil after the 1st round.
16. Eunjung Yi: Her playoff victory over Morgan Pressel at the Farr in 2009 remains her only LPGA top 10 since her LPGA career began in 2008. She won Hound Dog's fluke victory of the year award that year, a dubious distinction. The only way things could be worse for her prospects in 2011 would be if her defeat of Pressel had come in a U.S. Women's Open (see Kim, Birdie, below). Seriously, it remains to be seen how she responds to her guaranteed high priority status on the LPGA running out at the end of this season. 2010 was pretty blah, although she did make the top 100 on the money list, and she's gotten off to a terrible start in 2011.
17. Moira Dunn: Her 2004 win at the Giant Eagle Classic was the high point of an LPGA career that dates back to 1995, but her best season was probably in 2001. My junior golf buddy's been struggling to keep her card each year sinc the 2006 season, so although she couldn't add to her 23 career LPGA top 10s in 2010, staying at #80 on the money list was another battle won in a long pro campaign. She's off to a slow start in 2011, with 2 missed cuts in 3 starts, but if she can improve her iron play, everything else should fall into place.
18. Nicole Castrale: Unfortunately, 2010 didn't go down as the year she bounced back from a very disappointing 2009, when she missed 10 cuts, saw her scoring average approach 72.50, fell outside the top 50 on the money list, and only managed to get her 19th and 20th career top 10s on the LPGA. It'll instead be remembered as the year she had to cut her season short for shoulder surgery. She's back on tour full time in 2011 and has made 4 cuts in 6 starts, but is clearly still rusty with her irons and putter.
19. Louise Friberg: Her come-from-behind rookie win at the MasterCard Classic in 2008 gives her high-priority status through the end of this season, which is a good thing, because she made only 3 cuts in 21 starts in 2009 and 6 of 16 in 2010. So far she's 0 for 4 in 2011 and has broken 75 only once.
20. Silvia Cavalleri: She's only had 10 top 10s in an career that started back in 1999 and in that span has only cracked the top 50 on the money list once--in 2007, when she won the Corona Championship. She's finished outside the top 100 on the money list the last 3 seasons, and currently sits in the #104 spot on the money list, as well. She needs a good season to get off Hound Dog's fluke victories list, but has barely made the cut twice and missed it twice thus far this year.
On the Outside, Looking In
21. Young Kim: She joined the JLPGA in 2010 and ended up ranked 14th on tour; this season, she's 25th on the money list. Whether she'll return to the LPGA remains to be seen, but provided she does, if anyone on this list is going to follow in Jimin Kang's footsteps in breaking the Corning Classic jinx (see #14), I would expect her to be the next to do it!
22. Soo-Yun Kang: Her win at the Safeway Classic in 2005 was part of the best season of her career, where she got 6 top 10s and ended up #14 on the money list. But it was also the last season her stroke average dipped under 72. Of her 17 career top 10s since she started on the LPGA in 2001, only 2 have come after 2005 and none came in 2010. Having made the top 100 on the money list, she retains LPGA membership this year, but she's spent all her time on the JLPGA thus far, where she's #41 on their money list.
23. Jin Joo Hong: After playing 3 seasons on the KLPGA, she won the jointly-sponsored event with the LPGA and switched tours for the next 3 seasons, ending 2009 ranked #10 in her rookie class. Since then, she's decided to focus on the KLPGA.
24. Joo Mi Kim: She came to the LPGA in 2005 with 3 KLPGA victories under her belt and made a lot of cuts in her rookie season, then followed it up with a playoff win at the SBS Open (over Lorena Ochoa and Soo Young Moon) and 4 top 10s in all the next season, where she ended up 27th on the money list. She stayed in the top 50 for the 3rd-straight season the following year, but has only played 32 events over the last 3 seasons and hasn't cracked the 73 barrier in scoring average in that span. She spent the fall of 2010 on the KLPGA after failing to make an LPGA cut in spring and summer and is playing full-time there this year.
25. Birdie Kim: I had wanted to put her higher on this list, feeling that she had been coming back from the U.S. Women's Open jinx after her stunning 2005 win from the sand over then-amateurs Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang. But no, she's only made 4 cuts in her last 19 starts dating back to 2009, hasn't added to her career total of 4 top 10s in that span, and has never broken the 73 barrier in scoring average since she started on the LPGA in 2004. She's 0-for-3 in made cuts thus far this season, but can get into any event she wants, based on her medical exemption that leaves her at #83 on the priority status list.
26. Marisa Baena: Her LPGA career started in 1999, but after a terrible 2004, it looked like it was in jeopardy. She bounced back in 2005 with a win in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship from the 60th seed. Although she failed to get her 14th career top 10 and 2nd since 2005 last season, she did make 2 of 4 cuts. At #218 on the priority status list, she might be able to get into 1 or 2 events if she tries this year.
27. Kris Tschetter: Her rookie season was 1988, she won the Northgate Computer Classic in 1992. Even though 2002 was her last solid season, her 50 career top 10s show that she's got the talent to bounce back, now that her kids are elementary school age. She had a terrible 2010 on the course but wrote a moving account of her friendship with Ben Hogan off it.
28. Kelli Kuehne: She got a medical exemption for 2010, but didn't come close to returning to her 1999-2004 form, when she won at the Corning Classic at the start of that run and notched 24 of her 26 career top 10s over the course of it. From 2005-2009, though, she hasn't broken the 73 barrier in scoring average in any season and has made only 33 of 86 cuts. And she went 0 for 10 in 2010. She's #217 on the priority status list, but I have to wonder if she's going to play at all in 2011.
29. Kate Golden: Her win at the State Farm Classic in 2001 was part of a run from 2000-2004 when she averaged in the mid 72s in scoring and mid-$200Ks in winnings, but since then she hasn't made more than half her cuts in any season and has only added 1 top 10 to her career total of 14. In 2010, she got into 2 events and missed the cut in both of them in what might turn out to have been the last year of an LPGA career that started in 1992. She's still listed at #225 on the priority status list, but hasn't gotten into any events thus far this year.
30. Sung Ah Yim: Like Joo Mi Kim, she joined the LPGA in 2005 and got her 1st win in 2006, at the Florida's Natural Charity Classic. But from 2007 to 2009, she neither added to her career total of 8 top 10s nor broke the 74 barrier in scoring average. And in 2010, she didn't get a single LPGA start from #227 on the priority status list. With no LPGA status in 2011, this won't be the year she plays her way out of the #6 spot on Hound Dog's fluke victories list.
31. Hilary Lunke: She may never be knocked from the top spot in Hound Dog's fluke victory list. Thanks to a medical exemption, her 2003 U.S. Women's Open victory gave her the opportunity to play a full schedule in 2010, but she didn't tee it up on tour all season. She's now listed at #240 on the priority status list.