Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2011 Wegmans LPGA Championship Edition

All right, with the LPGA's 2nd major a morning away, it's about time I updated my list of the best on tour without a major, ranked by their likelihood of breaking through at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. The numbers in parentheses are for LPGA wins and international wins (but only from the other major tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Break Through in 2011

1. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): In her last 11 majors, her only finishes outside the top 20 have been at exceptionally windy Kraft Nabisco Championships in '09 and '10. Coming into this week with 4 top 10s in majors in a row (3 of them top 5s), and playing top-notch golf this past calendar year, she's ready to win a major. Will this be her time to stop knocking on the door and finally bust through it?

2. Na Yeon Choi (4/4): Besides her missed cuts at the '07 U.S. Women's Open and '10 LPGA Championship (still her only MC in her career as an LPGA member), her worst finishes in a major are T40 at the '09 KNC and T49 at the '11 KNC; otherwise, she has all top 30s, with top 10s in 5 of her last 8 starts, including a silver and a bronze in 2 of her last 3. This season, she's been a little bit Dr. Jekyll and a little bit Mr. Hyde by her standards of consistent excellence, but I still think she's got to be one of the favorites this week. Particularly since she has something to prove at Locust Hill.

The Contenders

3. Mika Miyazato (0/1): She already has 3 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including a T7 at this year's KNC. Plus, she's already won a JLPGA major, getting revenge at the '10 Japan Women's Open for her final-round collapse in the '09 edition. For more on why I'm so high on her chances this week, read on.

4. Ai Miyazato (6/15): Although her best major is clearly the Women's British Open, she does have 2 T3s at LPGA Championships, one when it was sponsored by McDonalds and one by Wegmans last year. I think she's got the eye of the tiger this week. Let's see if her putter can finally heat up--it's about time she started proving my pre-season prediction right!

5. Amy Yang (0/3): A T9 at the '08 LPGA Championship had been the only hint she's shown in the majors of her prodigious talent until last season, when she steadily improved from T27 to T14 to T5 to T5. She improved at this year's KNC to T19, so is a top 10 in the cards for her at Locust Hill?

6. Angela Stanford (4/0): Her best chance to win a major to date was back in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, Stanford's had 14 top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds). I'm thinking she's bound to improve on last year's T25 at Locust Hill.

7. Michelle Wie (2/0): So far, her performance in majors as an LPGA member has been nowhere near her 7 close calls from 2003-2006, including 6 top 5s, 2 of them at Mission Hills. But a 6th-place finish at this year's KNC may well be the start of something great--although maybe not on courses that put a premium on accuracy off the tee like Locust Hill.

8. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 10 of her last 12 majors, a fitting companion to her late bloom on the LPGA relative to most of her Young Gun-generation peers. Even though her best finish in a major (and only top 20) was T12 at last season's KNC, she's been putting up impressive performance stats for several years now, as an Angela Stanfordesque straight shooter. Anyone who can cut through the top players on tour as she did in last year's Sybase Match Play Championship like [insert metaphor of your choice here] certainly has the talent to break through in a major. Even though she's been a little shaky lately this season, Locust Hill really suits her game.

9. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): With top 25s in 9 of her last 11 majors, she's got the talent and the game to make her 1st LPGA win a major. I'm talking Cristie Kerr-style talent and game, here. But given her weak performance stats thus far in 2011, I wouldn't put any money down on her to break through this week, even though Locust Hill should suit her game very well.

10. Sandra Gal (1/0): Yeah, she never cracked the top 30 in a major in her 1st 11 tries, but she got a T15 at the KNC. Can she set a new record for her best finish in a major this week? She'll need to have a great ballstriking week and continue putting the lights out!

11. Katherine Hull (2/1): Yes, she only has 3 top 20s in majors in her life, but she's coming off a near-miss against Ya Ni Tseng in last year's Women's British Open and has a T8 at the '09 KNC (her only other career top 10) to build on. Still, she barely made the cut at this year's KNC and has gotten off to yet another slow LPGA start after building another solid foundation Down Under.

12. Maria Hjorth (5/5): She's an explosive, unpredictable golfer with 4 top 10s and 3 MCs at the KNC alone. She may not yet be quite back to being the kind of player again who averaged 2 top 10s in majors a year in 2007 and 2008--and I doubt she'll improve on that T2, 4th, 2nd run from the '07 WBO to the '08 U.S. Women's Open. When you put together a T2 at the '08 LPGA Championship, a top 20 at this year's KNC, and a missed cut at last year's LPGA Championship, what would you expect from her this week?

Quantum Leap Candidates

13. Mindy Kim (0/0): OK, so she only has 2 top 30s in her 4 majors, but she's been playing great this season, so why shouldn't she keep doing so at Locust Hill? Maybe because it puts a lot of pressure on her driving accuracy, which has been one of the only weak spots in her game this year...?

14. Shanshan Feng (0/0): If she hasn't even cracked the top 50 in any of her 11 starts in majors and finished T54 her 1st time at an LPGA Championship at Locust Hill, why am I even putting her on this list? First, she's a relatively long hitter on the LPGA who hits a lot of greens in regulation; second, she's shown signs of being a very good putter; and third, she has a 3 top 20s and 2 top 10s in her last 4 starts (never mind that missed cut mixed in there).

15. Brittany Lang (0/0): She's finished inside the top 40 in 9 of her last 13 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 3 top 15s in a row, including 2 top 10s, heading into Locust Hill this week.

16. Kristy McPherson (0/0): Her weak 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. I'm hoping she fully recovers from off-season elbow surgery by Solheim Cup time. She can do a lot this week to ensure she makes the team, if her hard work at getting her touch around and on the greens back starts paying off.

17. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3): She's had only 1 top 10 in her last 12 starts in majors--probably the key reason she dropped so far down the 2009 and 2010 money lists. However, she's coming off a T19 at last year's LPGA Championship and fairly solid play thus far in 2011. Let's see if her comeback is ready for the pressure Locust Hills puts on everyone's all-around games.

18. 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. I don't see her matching that, much less her best finish in a major, a T2 at the '07 WBO, this week, mainly because I'm not sure about the state of her health. She just hasn't been the same golfer since October of 2010 and I'm not sure why.

The Best of the Rest

19. Hee Kyung Seo
20. Vicky Hurst
21. Momoko Ueda
22. Kyeong Bae
23. Jane Park
24. Natalie Gulbis
25. Hee Young Park
26. Azahara Munoz
27. Christina Kim
28. Jennifer Song
29. M.J. Hur
30. Amanda Blumenherst
31. Mina Harigae
32. Mariajo Uribe
33. Beatriz Recari
34. Haeji Kang
35. Maria Hernandez
36. Chella Choi

Watch List

37. Sophie Gustafson
38. Hee-Won Han
39. Candie Kung
40. Mi Hyun Kim


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Can't argue with anything here until I got to the "best of the rest". Once again I think you rank Beatriz Recari way to low. Her 3 top 20 finishes this year is better than just about about all of the dozen players ahead of her. Dating back to the last 5 or so tournaments of last year, I think she outshines all of those players by a wide margin. In fact some of those players ranked ahead of her are just playing "horrible" golf so far this year.

The Constructivist said...

True, but the question is not who will finish better this week, but instead who has a better chance of winning. Even those playing bad golf can snap back into contention mode any time, but I'm not convinced Recari is ready to make her 2nd win a major.