Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Best on the LPGA: 3-to-6-Time Winners, June 2011 Edition

With Suzann Pettersen and Ya Ni Tseng recently graduating from the February 2011 ranking of who among the LPGA's 3-to-6-time winners is likeliest to add to their victory totals in 2011, I'm hoping that my favorite golfer will be next! The players on this list may well have the best chance of blocking the LPGA's 7-Up Club from even more wins this season in the coming weeks, so let's see how they stack up.

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2011

1. In-Kyung Kim (3/0): I've said it before and I'll say it again: she's had one of the best calendar years on the LPGA, period, with 1 win, 6 top 3s, 10 top 5s, and 15 top 10s in her last 20 starts, with only 2 finishes outside the top 25 in that run (at Evian and the Navistar). As she keeps putting herself in contention so often, I'm sure she's gaining the experience to start converting more great weeks into wins.

2. Na Yeon Choi (4/0): It was the 1st missed cut of her LPGA career this time last year that provided the impetus for her to take her game to another level and take the '10 money-list title and Vare Trophy in the process. Although she has had a couple of shaky weeks this year, the Kraft Nabisco and the ShopRite were literally her only finishes outside the top 25 since then, quite clearly offset by her 2 wins, 9 top 3s, 12 top 5s, and 15 top 10s in her last 21 starts. All she needs to do is get her putter going to go on a real tear this season!  [Update (10/16/11):  NYC finally broke through!]

3. Ai Miyazato (6/0): Unlike Kim and Choi, Ai-sama's been struggling to keep up with the tour's super-elite over the last calendar year. But I've been seeing positive signs in the last month or so ago that her game is coming around. She's having one of the best seasons driving the ball in her career, so it's just a matter of time before she starts sticking her approach shots and making putts like she's capable of! [Update (7/26/11): Well, that was quick! Great win at Evian--again!]

4. Brittany Lincicome (4/1): Last time, I wrote, "She's pretty much convinced me she's for real, but until she overcomes her 'onebadrounditis,' she won't be contending with any regularity on the LPGA." I'd say she's overcome it this month, wouldn't you? Even when her approach shots and putting haven't been where she's wanted them to be this season, her combination of distance and accuracy off the tee allows her to contend any given week. I'm not convinced she can put it all together at Locust Hill, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if she puts together a few more wins before the year is out. [Update (8/29/11): She got #2 in Quebec with what appeared to me to be her B- game. Wonder how many more she'll put together before the year is out?]

5. Angela Stanford (4/0): Last time, I wrote, "It's about time for her to rejoin the game's elite." Now I'm thinking that with her ballstriking coming back online, she has a chance to join the super-elite. But to do that, she's going to need to overcome the same "onebadrounditis" that has been afflicting her Solheim Cup teammate in this category.

The Contenders

6. Maria Hjorth (5/0): I thought she was just riding a hot streak, but wins at the end of last season and near the start of this one have me convinced this is no fluke. In a year when loads of players are putting together fantastic combinations of distance and accuracy off the tee, Hound Dog has her ranked #1 on tour in Total Driving.

7. Catriona Matthew (3/1): Like Hjorth, she's been striking many blows for the moms on tour this season, thanks to some truly impressive ballstriking (she's #2 on tour in GIR to Suzann Pettersen). Any week she gets her putter going is a week she has a great chance to win!

8. Seon Hwa Lee (4/0): Even with all her struggles the last 2 years or so (in which she's put together only 5 top 10s since the last McDonalds LPGA Championship in '09), she's still #2 in the Class of 2006 and #6 among the LPGA's Young Guns generation. She's too good a golfer for the 1st slump of her LPGA career to last much longer. And I'm not just saying that a fan!

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Sophie Gustafson (5/0): The LET's leading money winner of 2009 had a terrible 2010, but she's putting the lights out in 2011, so if she can improve her ballstriking, she could take real advantage of being so used to seeing the ball drop in that hole!

10. Candie Kung (4/0): By contrast, it's her putter that's been the only thing holding her back this season (at #134 in Hound Dog's Total Putting stat, she's 132 spots behind Gustafson!).

11. Wendy Ward (4/0): After a slow start to the season caused mostly by bad putting (Hound Dog puts her at #108 in '11), she figured something out on the greens at the State Farm and briefly put herself in contention before settling for her 1st top 10 since last October. Just goes to show what a fine line there really is between the tour's elite and everyone else!

12. Hee-Won Han (6/0): As bad as Kung's been putting, Han's been putting worse (although Hound Dog ranks her 2 spots better than Kung) and as a result has gone on an epic missed-cut run broken only by a T17 at the Sybase, which makes her solid play on the Asian swings that ended last season and began this one a distant memory.

13. Pat Hurst (6/1): She's missed 4 cuts in a row and her putter is the culprit (she's 2 spots behind Ward in Hound Dog's system).

14. Grace Park (6/1): Although she's put together 2 sub-70 rounds this season that show what she's capable of even after all her injury problems, her overall performance stats are not encouraging.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

15. Lorie Kane (4/0): At #113 on the priority status list, she'll get to play pretty much all the full-field events she wants to in 2011. With 4 made cuts in 5 starts and surprisingly solid performance stats, I'm tempted to move her up a category if she keeps it up by next ranking.

16. Wendy Doolan (3/0): At #102(a) on the priority status list thanks to a medical exemption, she, too, will get another chance to extend her LPGA career yet further. But unlike Kane she hasn't teed it up on tour thus far in 2011.

17. Dorothy Delasin (4/0): This 2000 Rookie of the Year had been struggling to keep her card from 2006-2008, but she fell off a cliff in 2009, going 0 for 16 in made cuts and even bombing out of Q-School. Last season, her only made cut was at the Navistar, bringing her total to 1 for 25 in the last 2 seasons. Her 1st 4 years on tour when she averaged a win a year and was a consistent top 30 threat are a distant memory now. But she's still #187 on the priority status list, which is effectively in the low 160s, so look for her to get in a decent number of events in 2011. So far she's 0-for-3 when it comes to making cuts. She's hung on longer than another former ROY, Angela Park, but I have to wonder for how much longer?

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