All right, with the 2011 Ricoh Women's British Open right around the corner, it's time I updated my Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wegmans LPGA Championship, and U.S. Women's Open takes on the best on the LPGA without a major, ranked this time by their likelihood of breaking through at Carnoustie. The numbers in parentheses following the players' names 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. Ai Miyazato (7/15): She's found her rhythm, her serenity, and her confidence just in time for her best major, where she's finished 11th or better in 5 of her 7 starts. She's on the right track for proving my pre-season prediction right, so I'm hoping for a great week for and from her at Carnoustie.
2. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): Talk about due: she hasn't finished worse than 12th in her last 6 majors and her only finishes outside the top 20 in her last 13 majors have been at exceptionally windy Kraft Nabisco Championships in '09 and '10. Although this year she hasn't been able to sustain the pace that put her in the top 5 in the last 3 majors of 2010, she's still been playing top-notch golf this past calendar year, plus she's got 3 top 20s in 4 career WBO starts. Will this be her time to stop knocking on the door at a major and finally bust through it?
3. Mika Miyazato (0/1): She already has 5 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including 3 top 10s in a row this year (a T7 at the KNC, a T8 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 5th-place finish at the U.S. Women's Open). 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. Heading into last week, I thought she was the most likely to get the next Miyazato win and I wouldn't be surprised if she were the next!
4. 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 15 more top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds), a T3 at this year's KNC, and a 4th-place finish at the USWO a few weeks ago. Although her record at the WBO is surprisingly weak for a player of her caliber and style of play, she's on such a huge roll right now I'd be surprised if she weren't in contention on the back 9 on Sunday.
5. Amy Yang (0/3): She's riding a 6-major top-20 streak and is coming off a T5 at last year's WBO. I saw firsthand at the Wegmans LPGA Championship that she has a great game for majors, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her take the title at Carnoustie.
6. Maria Hjorth (5/5): You know, 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 LPGA Championship. But just 1 bad round at the Broadmoor interrupted a run in this year's majors that included a top 20 at the KNC, and a top 10 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. So when you take into account her 2 wins in the last 9 months, how accurate she is off the tee for a bomber, and her impressive start last week in Evian, I think you have to conclude she has a good shot to win this week at Carnoustie.
7. Na Yeon Choi (4/4): Let's face it: last year's money-list title-holder hasn't played very well in the LPGA's big-money events this year. Sure, she got a bronze at the Sybase Match Play Championship and a 6th at the Showdown in Singapore, but she suffered her 3rd-ever missed cut in a major at this year's USWO (to go with her MCs at the '07 USWO and '10 Wegmans LPGA Championship), slogged through her worst 2 non-MC major finishes right before that (T49 at the KNC and T43 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship), and could only bounce back with a T21 on an Evian course she's almost won on--twice. On the bright side, she hasn't finished worse than T21 at a WBO and is coming off a T8 and a T3 in her last 2 WBO starts. So which NYC will show up at Carnoustie?
8. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11): She turned a good rookie season very good at the Broadmoor, where she lost in a playoff to KLPGA rival and friend So Yeon Ryu. Can she turn it into a great one at Carnoustie? She's coming off a T5 at last year's WBO....
9. 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. While the golfy media has been making much of how surprising her recent slump has been, given that she hasn't been taking classes a Stanford lately, I haven't been that surprised that she's struggled on courses like Locust Hill and the Broadmoor that reward accuracy and penalize wildness off the tee. Maybe the simplicity of links golf--hit the ball, find it, hit it again--will free up her creativity this week.
10. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 12 of her last 14 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 is still a T12 at the '09 KNC, she's been putting up impressive performance stats for several years now as an Angela Stanfordesque straight shooter, she's gotten a couple of top 25s in a row in majors in a somewhat shaky 2011 season, and she's gotten 3 top 40s in 5 WBO starts.
11. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): Yes, her run of 9 top 25s in 10 majors from the '08 USWO to the '10 WBO was snapped this year, she hasn't shown many signs of her usual Cristie Kerr-quality talent and game inside or outside this year's majors, and she's coming off a Sunday 76 at Evian. But maybe, just maybe, she can keep her 2-event top-20 run at the WBO going this week at Carnoustie anyway....
Quantum Leap Candidates
12. Hee Young Park (0/4): She's made the cut in 8 of her last 10 majors, with 4 top 15s in that stretch, including a T11 at the '09 WBO. In fact, she has 2 top 15s in her 3 career WBO starts to date. Let's see if The Rocket can finally capitalize on her fantastic driving this year and avoid the "onebadrounditis" that's sabotaged her last 2 starts....
13. 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 this year's KNC. Unfortunately, she followed it up with a missed cut at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and could only bounce back with a top 35 at the USWO, plus her ball-striking stats have been declining fast in the last couple of months. Even though her putter remains very reliable, it's looking more and more like her start to this season was just a little hot streak.
14. Katherine Hull (2/1): She only has 3 top 20s in majors in her life, her performance in them this year has been horrendous, and she had to withdraw from the Evian to rest an ailing back, so it's looking increasingly unlikely that she'll get anywhere near last year's WBO's near-miss against Ya Ni Tseng this week at Carnoustie.
15. Shanshan Feng (0/0): Yes, her best performances in LPGA majors (a T42 at this year's USWO, a T48 at the '09 USWO, a T50 and a T54 at the last two Wegmans LPGA Championships, and a T55 at this year's KNC) haven't been all that impressive. But she's a classic straight shooter who hits a lot of greens in regulation and is due to finally get her putter going this year.
16. Momoko Ueda (1/8): Yes, she's gone back to playing terribly on the LPGA again after showing some signs of life earlier this season on both the JLPGA and LPGA, but there's something about the WBO for her: she made back-to-back eagles on her way to a T7 in '08 and she got 3 of them at Royal Birkdale (including a pair on the par-5 18th) on her way to a T9 in '10. I know this isn't an even-numbered year, but still, could lightning strike for the player whose lone LPGA win was sparked by a double eagle?
Most wins/longest careers without a major: Mi Hyun Kim (8), Hee-Won Han (6), Sophie Gustafson (5), Lorie Kane (4), Wendy Ward (4), Candie Kung (4)
Slumping stars: Seon Hwa Lee, Jee Young Lee, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, Kristy McPherson, Vicky Hurst
Rising stars: Caroline Hedwall, Jennifer Song, Tiffany Joh, Cindy LaCrosse, Belen Mozo, Jennifer Johnson
Possible non-LPGA winners: Sakura Yokomine, Sun-Ju Ahn, Yuri Fudoh, Miki Saiki, Melissa Reid, Becky Brewerton