Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up, June 2011 Edition

With 1st Suzann Pettersen and now Ya Ni Tseng joining the LPGA's 7-Up Club via their seventh victories on tour at the Sybase and the State Farm, respectively, it's about time I updated my July 2010 ranking of the active club members by their likelihood of winning in 2011. This is the 1st time that Lorena Ochoa, Meg Mallon, and Rachel Hetherington won't appear on this list, but I'm expecting others to join it relatively soon.

Oh, and by the way, it's really pitiful that the career bio pages I'm linking to here don't actually cover the entire careers of the veterans and are riddled with errors for the last couple of seasons. They're mostly accurate when it comes to career wins and majors (the correct figures which I list below in parentheses after the players' names), but ignore what they say about top 10s and check the players' performance stats pages for more accurate figures.

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2011

1. Ya Ni Tseng (7/3): She's hitting on all cylinders and playing so well she's a threat to win even on courses that don't favor bombers. [Update (7/4/11): Whoops, make that 8/4 after her dominating performance at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Will she make it 9/5 and a career Grand Slam at the U.S. Women's Open this week?]

2. Cristie Kerr (14/2): She's done everything but win in recent weeks, but as the prototypical straight shooter she's capable of transforming silver into gold any given week.

3. Suzann Pettersen (7/1): She's done everything but win in recent years, so now that she has it'll be interesting to see if the LPGA player with the best chance to become a straight-up bomber (as Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa were at the peak of their careers and Ya Ni Tseng has been at times this season) can starting stringing together multiple wins as she did back in 2007.

4. Ji-Yai Shin (8/1): She's in unfamiliar territory, with a new swing, new caddie, and new issues with her game (surprisingly shaky ballstriking at times and at others problems with her putting under pressure), but she's been knocking on the door all over the world this year and is due to bust it down any given week.

5. Paula Creamer (9/1): She's not as consistent as she was before her wrist and intestinal issues cropped up--back then, she was virtually a guaranteed top 10 every week--and she still hasn't remembered quite how to go super-low, but as last week shows, she's capable of contending any given week. And with her added distance this season, she should be able to contend on any course the LPGA plays.

6. Karrie Webb (38/7): During her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43). In her 14-year LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, never had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (these were the only times her scoring average rose above 71.50), and only 3 times failed to enter the winner's circle (each of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd). So is it any surprise she's already won twice on tour in 2011? Not to me: you read any of my ranking posts the last couple of years and you'll see I've been calling for an LPGA win from her for a long time. But as the least consistently excellent of the players on this list, with the streakiest putter of the bunch, I can't rank her any higher than this.

The Contenders

7. Se Ri Pak (25/5): From 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all. She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!). She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch. She hasn't been nearly that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became a 5-time winner of the Farr in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, she's been dealing with injuries since winning the Bell Micro last year, so I don't know when her next win is coming, even though she snagged an impressive top 5 at the State Farm even with a stiff lower back.

8. Juli Inkster (31/7): She's discovered golf's fountain of youth. Sure she hasn't won, earned a million dollars in winnings, or gotten below 71 in scoring average since 2006, and her top-10 rate has been slipping in that stretch, but she's still been putting herselt in contention with a good deal more regularity than most people would expect and is certainly capable of winning again.

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and now it's motherhood for my fave among the old-school Seoul Sisters. She was a regular on the top 10 for her 1st 9 seasons on tour, but the last 2 and change have been struggles, at least on the course. Still, she's driving the ball and putting better than last season and has shown flashes of her old game in 2011, with a couple of rounds in the 60s already. More important, she's made the cut in every event she's played but 1 this season. I'm looking forward to catching up with her at Pittsford and finding out how she feels about her game and her chances!

10. Laura Davies (20/4): Those last 2 points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame must be weighing on her, as she's been winning everywhere but the LPGA in recent years. Given her international record and commitment to growing the game around the world, there's no doubt she'll be voted into every golf HOF on the planet once she decides to retire, but given how competitive she is I'm sure she'd love to win 1 more major and do it herself! The odds are decreasing each year, and they haven't been good in a while, but they're better than getting 2 non-majors LPGA wins and I wouldn't put anything past her!

11. Helen Alfredsson (7/1): Her scoring average in 2009 was her 4th-lowest ever, even better than some from 1992-1995, when she was a fixture on the top 20 of the LPGA money list. But she's played a limited schedule ever since, and--with no made cuts in her last 6 starts dating back to last year's WBO and no starts at all since this year's KNC--has been calling more shots than she's been taking lately. I've really enjoyed listening to her on Golf Channel in recent weeks, but I'd love even more to see her playing great golf again!

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She won a senior major and made 12 of 17 LPGA cuts post-hip surgery last season, but is 0-for-5 this one. Still, if she can get her game in shape in time for Carnoustie next month, I'm never counting her out at a WBO!

13. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She hasn't completed an event in her last 19 starts dating back to 2008 (and only 3 made cuts in her other 13 starts that season), so although she's in Category 19 and #172 in the latest priority status list, she can enter only 2 tournaments this year and hasn't yet done so. She hasn't been playing on the Legends Tour, either, so I wonder if her competitive golf days are behind her....


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Hard to believe that their are that few ladies with 7 or more wins. With the competition as tough as it is and no signs of getting back to 35 events in the near future, do you think the Hall of Fame qualifying points should be reduced from 27?

Also I have to stick up for my favorite player and point out the Paula Creamer has finished in the top 5 four times this year. Only Yani and Cristie have more. I think thats pretty consistant.

The Constructivist said...

I'd say hold the line on HOF requirements, although I'd like to see them drop the 10-year membership requirement for eligibility. To my mind, with all the great competition, if you can get your 27 points before 10 years, you deserve to be in. It's ridiculous that someone as great as Lorena Ochoa will have to get voted in!

Tony, I wasn't knocking Paula, I was just pointing out she's not yet playing to her HOF-quality pre-injury game just yet. Would you really put Paula ahead of Pettersen, who's won this year, or Shin, who's contended more often than Paula? I had to think hard before putting her ahead of Webb!

Those top 6 could lock up all the wins for the rest of the season if the players on my other lists don't step it up!