Monday, July 25, 2011

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

With Ai Miyazato getting LPGA win #7 at the Evian Masters, it's time again to update my June 2011 ranking of the active club members by their likelihood of winning this season. I said last month that I expected others to join this list "relatively soon," but I had no idea it would be my favorite golfer!

Before I unveil the new list, I have to mention again that it's totally 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 (8/4): Right after I wrote that "she's hitting on all cylinders and playing so well she's a threat to win even on courses that don't favor bombers," she goes and wins in bigger-than-Rory fashion on the ridiculously narrowed Locust Hill at the Wegmans LPGA Championship to become the youngest golfer since the late 19th century to win 4 majors. So now that the career grand slam is out of her reach for another season, I wonder what she'll do for an encore? Defend at the Ricoh Women's British Open by winning at Carnoustie? Why the heck not? [Update (8/29/11): Can't believe it's taken me this long the crow about my call for win #9 and major #5!]

2. Ai Miyazato (7/0): Her winless streak hadn't been as long as Pettersen's or as filled with close calls as Kerr's, but it probably was more frustrating because of how far she fell from super-elite status and game during it. I have to believe she's turned a serious corner in the last few weeks, not just confidence- or focus-wise, but also in terms of her approach shots and putting finally catching up with her great driving. Watch out for her the rest of the season--it was only last year she was winning in bunches! And I'm sure she doesn't want to remain 1 of only 2 players on this list without a major....

3. 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 and bronze into gold any given week. (Never mind her hiccups over her last 19 holes at Evian--it can happen to anyone.)

4. 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. [Update (8/29/11): Suzann now has the same number of LPGA wins as Ji-Yai and was on quite a tear after dominating in Ireland and chasing down Na Yeon Choi from 9 down over the final 18 holes of the Safeway Classic, but then she went and missed the cut in Quebec. What's up with that?]

5. Ji-Yai Shin (8/1): She's in unfamiliar territory, with a new swing, new caddie, and new issues with her game (surprisingly shaky distance control on approach shots 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 caoable of busting it down any given week.

6. Paula Creamer (9/1): She hasn't been as consistently awesome as she was before her wrist and intestinal issues cropped up--back then, she was virtually a guaranteed top 10 every week--and she hasn't yet remembered quite how to go super-low, but even with her surprising difficulties with her putter (1.86 putts per green in regulation?!!), she's still capable of contending any given week.

7. 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: if you read any of my ranking posts the last couple of years, 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

8. 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 and has played some very good golf in stretches of late.

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

Quantum Leap Candidates

10. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and lately it's been 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 few rounds in the 60s already. More important, she's made 7 of 9 cuts so far this season and taking baby steps back toward the LPGA elite.

11. 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-major LPGA wins and I wouldn't put anything past her over 72 holes!

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 only 2-for-7 this one. Still, if she can get her game in shape in time for Carnoustie this week, I'm never counting her out at a WBO! [Update (8/29/11): She called it quits on a great LPGA career at the Canadian Women's Open, in honor of her 1st LPGA win, which also took place in Canada. Best of luck to her in everything she chooses to do!]

13. 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 really enjoyed listening to her on Golf Channel a month or so ago, but I'd love even more to see her playing great golf again--or any!

14. 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....

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