Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship Edition, Part II

So who didn't make my lists of Most Likely to Break Through and The Contenders at the Kraft Nabisco Championship? (Note: As before, the numbers in parentheses after each player's name list the number of LPGA wins--non-member wins are marked with a *--and the number of international wins--on the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET only.)

Quantum Leap Candidates

14. Sandra Gal (1/0): Yeah, she's never cracked the top 30 in a major in 11 tries, but the KNC will be the 10th in a row she's competed in, she made the cut there and got her 2nd-best finish in a major last year, and of course she's coming off a world-beating performance at a course that prepared her well for Mission Hills. A hot hand can only take you so far, but I wouldn't be surprised if she radically improves on her previous best finish in a major, a T33 at the '09 Women's British Open.
15. Kristy McPherson (0/0): She's another player whose 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. Now that she's had more time to recover from off-season surgery, I'm looking for her to turn things around in '11. But probably not this week at the KNC.
16. Brittany Lang (0/0): She's finished inside the top 40 in 9 of her last 12 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 a great record at Mission Hills, never finishing worse than 21st. I'd rank her a lot higher if she weren't mired in the 2nd serious slump of her career.
17. 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. Her best finish in a major was a T2 at the '07 WBO, so I'm hoping she starts her comeback this week from whatever derailed the end of last season and delayed the start of this one. She's got the length to conquer Mission Hills, but does she have the accuracy, the touch, and the ability to perform under pressure yet?

The Best of the Rest

18. Shanshan Feng (0/0): If she hasn't even cracked the top 50 in any of her 11 starts in majors and is 0 for 1 in even making the cut at the KNC, why am I even putting her on this list? First, she's coming out of a slump; second, she's a relatively long hitter on the LPGA; and third, she's shown signs of being a very good putter.
19. Vicky Hurst (0/0): Speaking of long hitters, Hurst is among the very longest on the LPGA. Even though she hasn't yet been able to surpass her best finish in a major, which came in '09 WBO (T28), she has made the cut in 5 majors in a row and counting. Sure, she's off to a somewhat rocky start in 2011, but give her time. She's slower out of the gate than Ya Ni Tseng, but I don't see why she can't turn into that same kind of bomber.
20. Momoko Ueda (1*/8): Her knee injuries last year derailed a 10-major made-cut streak, but she came back from 2 MCs in a row in majors with a top 10 at the WBO. She doesn't have a great record at the KNC, never having cracked the top 25 at Mission Hills, but she's got the length to make her mark there and few players can go on birdie runs like she can. It's just a question of whether she can play solidly when she's not in the zone. She's shown some signs in 2011 of coming out of her slump, so maybe this will be the year she breaks through. Maybe.
21. Natalie Gulbis (1/0): Don't laugh--she's got a bronze and 2 other top 20s at the KNC. From late 2004 through the 2006 season, she made the top 20 in majors 9 times in a row, including a run of T5, T4, T8, and T3 in 1 calendar year from the LPGA Championship to the KNC. Her last 2 majors have been T25 at Locust Hill and T14 at Oakmont, so she's headed in the right direction again, and the back injuries that kept her from playing Royal Birkdale seem to be in abeyance. Plus, she's off to a good start in 2011...
22. Sophie Gustafson (5/18): Compared to 4 top 10s in a 7-major run from the end of 2005 to the middle of 2007, her recent campaigns haven't produced as many great finishes, but she is coming off a T10 in last year's KNC and didn't miss a cut in a major that year for the 1st time since 2000. Her best finish at the KNC is a T7 way back in 2001. Even though she's plenty long to tame Mission Hills, she plays roller-coaster golf and usually has too many big numbers to end up on top. Will this year be different?
23. Hee Young Park (0/4): Speaking of mercurial golfers, she's the kind of fearless, aggressive, and unfortunately inconsistent player who you wouldn't expect to play all that well in the majors. But her best finishes are T9 at the '09 U.S. Women's Open, a T11 at the '09 WBO, and a T15 at the '10 KNC. Let's see if she can get back on track in this year's KNC!
24. Hee-Won Han (6/2): Back when she was among the very best players in the world from 2003-2006, she had 10 top 25s in the majors. Plus, 3 of her best 4 career finishes in them have actually come since her son Dale was born, including a T6 at the windy '09 KNC (the 2nd in her last 4 starts there) and a T9/T3 combo in the '08 and '09 WBOs. So even though she's been playing way below her peak capabilities lately, count her out at your own risk!
25. Christina Kim (2/0): She's coming off a T8 at the '10 U.S. Women's Open and a T9 at the '10 WBO (following up a T3 there on '09), so even though she's gotten off to a terrible start in '11, never count her out in a major--or in a Solheim Cup year. She gets up for big events!
26. M.J. Hur (1/0): She's due to start making some noise in majors soon, having made 5 of her 7 cuts in them and come close to breaking into the top 30 in her last 3 of them. But she'll need to improve her ballstriking so she can take better advantage of her excellent putting to do so.
27. Candie Kung (4/0): Her solo 2nd to Eun-Hee Ji at the '09 U.S. Women's Open was the best performance in a major of her career, but let's not forget that from late 2002 through 2006, she was a regular in the top 30, finishing inside it in 10 of 17 starts, including 7 top 10s and 2 top 5s in that run. I'm not seeing anything that would lead me to believe she's a likely contender at Mission Hills, but if she can get a T28 at Oakmont last year in such a "blah" season for her, I wonder what she's capable of if she starts playing well this week? She did finish T8 and T9 in 2004 and 2005 at the KNC....
28. Mi Hyun Kim (8/11): In one sense, she's probably the player most overdue for a major on the LPGA, having averaged well over a top 10 per season in them over her 1st 10 on tour. Unfortunately, injuries and motherhood have knocked her off her game and she's off to a terrible start in 2011.

The Watch List
Yuri Fudoh, Chie Arimura, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yukari Baba, Jennifer Song, Hee Kyung Seo, So Yeon Ryu, Azahara Munoz, Belen Mozo, Mindy Kim, Lee-Anne Pace, Melissa Reid

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship Edition, Part I

All right, with the LPGA's 1st major less than a day 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 Kraft Nabisco Championship and later 2011 majors. 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. Na Yeon Choi (4/4): Sure, 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 finish in a major is T40 at the '09 KNC; otherwise, she has all top 30s, with top 10s in 5 of her last 7 starts, including a silver and a bronze in her last 2. I actually liked that she took some risks last Sunday when she got to -12 on the final 9. She knew those ahead of her weren't going to come back to her, so she went ahead and tried to catch them. Good strategy for a player who's looking to win in bunches this year to prove that her money-list title and Vare Trophy were no flukes.
2. 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. Can she keep that streak going this week? Only if she can take advantage of her length.
3. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): In her last 10 majors, her only finishes outside the top 20 have been at exceptionally windy KNC events the last 2 seasons. Coming into this year's KNC with 3 top 5s in majors in a row, and playing well already this season, she's ready to win. Will this be her week to stop knocking on the door and finally bust through it? Only if she plays her best golf all 4 rounds.
4. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 9 of her last 11 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. Plus she's already playing sneaky great in 2011.
5. 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. Can she go back to the future in a week between finals of winter quarter and a belated start to the spring quarter at Stanford?

The Contenders

6. 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 she has a T8 at the '09 KNC (her only other career top 10) to build on.
7. Angela Stanford (4/0): Sure, she has 4-straight top 20s at the KNC, but her last top 10 at Mission Hills came in 2007. 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 13 top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship. Can she put it all together at the KNC this week? I'm doubtful, but prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
8. Ai Miyazato (6/15): Yes, her best major is clearly the Women's British Open, and yes, her best finish at the KNC is only a T15 (and way back in 2007, at that). In fact, her record at Mission Hills is easily her worst among all the LPGA's majors, probably because of its winds and length. I know it's time for her to win an LPGA major, but given this history and how she's been playing so far in 2011 (decent ball-striking, bad putting by her standards), it's very unlikely to come this week.
9. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): With top 25s in 9 of her last 10 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. She's already won a bronze at KNC, but given her lack of consistency thus far in 2011, I wouldn't put any money down on her to break through this week.
10. Mika Miyazato (0/1): Another golfer who's playing sneaky good this season, she has 2 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career. 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 JWO.
11. Stacy Lewis (0/0): Her best finish in a major as an LPGA member--T9 at the '09 LPGA Championship--wouldn't have felt like quite such a letdown if she hadn't finished T5 at the '07 KNC and T3 at the '08 U.S. Women's Open before joining the tour. But she made the top 20 in the 1st 3 majors of last season and got off to a great start Down Under this season. So I'm looking for her to jumpstart her LPGA career--and soon.
12. Maria Hjorth (4/5): 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. But given that the KNC event that came in the middle of that run was her last start there and she faced down Amy Yang at the end of last season, I wouldn't put anything past her this week.
13. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3): Her best result at Mission Hills is a T5 back in 2008, but she's had only 1 top 10 in her last 11 starts in majors--probably the key reason she dropped so far down the 2009 and 2010 money lists. However, she's showing signs of life with a T19 at last year's LPGA Championship and solid play thus far in 2011.

Look for my list of Quantum Leap Candidates and The Best of the Rest tonight!

[Update 1 (3/31/11, 9:18 am): Or the next morning!]

Kraft Nabisco Championship Preview, Predictions, Pairings

It's the 40th anniversary of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA's 1st major of the year, and between's preview and pre-tournament interviews, fantastic local coverage by Larry Bohannan and company, Steve DiMeglio's profile of Karrie Webb, Beth Ann Baldry's profiles of Ya Ni Tseng and Ji-Yai Shin, Randall Mell's profile of Michelle Wie, and the Seoul and myLPGA fan sites, there's plenty for casual watchers of the LPGA to get up to speed on.

If you want to get a sense of how much the LPGA has changed in the last 4 years, though, take a gander at my preview/predictions posts from 2008, 2009, and 2010. As for the golf course, nothing that's happened in the past 3 competitions leads me to change a word of my 2008 description:

Mission Hills is difficult to master year in and year out. It puts pressure on your judgment and patience, as wind and changing weather conditions have been factors almost every year. It puts a lot of pressure on your ball-striking, with a premium on accurate driving and controlled approach shots. It puts pressure on your short game, with its well-bunkered, hard, undulating, and often tiered greens. And it puts pressure on your nerves and guts, with water in play on the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 14th, and 18th holes and trees lining every fairway.

For more recent assessments, though, I'd check out what the GCSAA is saying:

The only significant change [Mission Hills director of golf course operations David] Johnson made to the course this year is an expansion of a back tee box on No. 11 that will be used during the two days No. 18 plays from a forward tee. When No. 18 moves up to tempt players to go for the green in two strokes, No. 11 will move back 36 yards to maintain the total yardage and discourage players from going for No. 11 in two.

"We had more than three inches of rain in January, and we normally only get 4 inches annually," said Johnson, a 22-year GCSAA member who has been at Mission Hills all 22 years. "So the rough is really, really thick. It should reward those who avoid it and stay on the fairway."

But nobody beats Karrie Webb:

I think I really like the fact that you've got to shape the ball both ways off the tee, and generally this course demands you hit your driver pretty accurately this week. And then by the weekend the greens get firm and fast, so there's a definite plus of distance control with your irons and placing the ball in the right parts of the greens to make some putts....

I think the course subtly changes from year to year. I think this year the way it's set up, they've been pretty generous with their step cuts around the greens. Generally in the past if you were three or four yards long or wide of the greens, you're in pretty heavy rough. And now you've really got to miss it by quite a bit and have it going in with some speed to get into the really deep stuff. I'm not saying that by the weekend if they let it grow it might be--but it's a further distance from the edge of the green than it normally is. So that doesn't make the greens as tiny when they're starting to get firm and fast. So that's just a subtle difference that I've noticed this week. Other than that I think it's going to be nice and hot for us, so that's going to bake the greens, and I'd say by Sunday they're going to be pretty bouncy. So once again, premium on hitting fairways and then hitting some good iron shots.

With such a strong field, it's really tough to predict what's going to happen this week. Jonathan Wall's top 5 picks, Karla Villegas Gama's top 4, and Ruthless Mike's top 3 are all very solid, but for the best take on who's been playing the best golf lately on the LPGA, go to Hound Dog's hot 20 list and Tony Jesselli's ranking of the top 20 on tour, and for the best overview of the KNC's long history, go to Golf Observer. Keeping all that in mind, here are my PakPicker entries at Seoul this week:

1. Shin
2. Tseng
3. Webb
4. Creamer
5. Pettersen
6. Kerr
7. Choi Na Yeon
8. Yang
9. Kim In-Kyung
10. Yoo
11. Wie
12. Lincicome

Alts: Hull, Stanford, Park Inbee

Who will make the champion's leap into Poppy's Pond this year? I hope I'm right that Shin is due, as I'm doing terribly in the PakPicker thus far this year!

Randall Mell has beaten me to the punch with his list of marquee pairings, so I'll just add the following fascinating ones to me:

10th tee, 1:02 pm: Na Yeon Choi and Sun Young Yoo: 2 legitimate contenders to win this thing, I wonder if the soft fairways and their relative lack of success at Mission Hills will sabotage their chances this time around?

1st tee, 1:26 pm: In-Kyung Kim and Shanshan Feng: Another pair who have good chances to win. Even though Inky's giving up a lot of yards off the tee, she's been making birdies at almost twice the rate of Feng and has a scoring average more than 2 shots lower than her thus far this year!

10th tee, 8:20 am: Mika Miyazato and Song-Hee Kim: 2 international players who are really due for a breakthrough win on the LPGA. Why not at a major? Miyazato already has 1 on the JLPGA and Kim's close calls are Pettersenesque.

10th tee, 12:54 pm: Stacy Lewis and Anna Nordqvist: A preview of what I expect will be many Solheim Cup face-offs for many years to come!

10th tee, 8:52 am: Amy Yang and Jee Young Lee: 2 international bombers who were playing great at the end of last season. Only problem for Lee is that she had to call it quits early in 2010, started 2011 late, and hasn't picked up where she left off before what I can only surmise is an injury of some sort. Yang has played well so far this year, but is capable of much better. The more accurate player off the tee, I expect her to do better than Lee this week.

10th tee, 8:28 am: Katherine Hull and Eun-Hee Ji: 2 international golfers who played better Down Under than on the LPGA thus far this season. Time to turn it around this week?

10th tee, 7:40 am: Mi-Jeong Jeon and Chie Arimura: With both Sun-Ju Ahn and Sakura Yokomine declining invitations (despite the fact that it's still unclear when the JLPGA will resume its season), Jeon and Arimura are the 2 JLPGAers most likely to make me regret not picking them. If they're well-rested instead of rusty, watch out for them!

10th tee, 7:24 am: Teresa Lu and Mina Harigae: I wonder if Mina will be asking Teresa about her experiences on the JLPGA.

1st tee, 7:08 am: Paige Mackenzie and Katie Futcher: 2 young Americans who may well be due for quantum leaps. A win from either would be phenomenal, but what I'm thinking is more realistic is a top 25 from one of them.

10th tee, 8:04 am: Brittany Lang and Stacy Prammanasudh: 2 more young Americans whose quantum leaps would be to elevate them near the game's elite. Both are struggling through slumps but have games that should travel well, provided they can handle Mission Hills's greens.

10th tee, 1:42 pm: Melissa Reid and Amanda Blumenherst: 2 young players who have had to deal with the weight of massive expectations on them. Given how well Reid's been playing on the LET lately and how long she's been talking about wanting to compete on the LPGA, I wouldn't be surprised to see her in Q-School this year.

10th tee, 1:34 pm: Natalie Gulbis and Ariya Jutanugarn: Media magnet Gulbis will help the LPGA and KNC organizers showcase the talents of the #1-ranked junior golfer in the United States, according to Golfweek. (#2 Kristen Park is 1st off the back with Maria Hjorth. The #1-ranked women's amateur, Danielle Kang, is buried late off the front with Karin Sjodin.)

There are other kinds of interesting pairings, such as veteran/newbie (including Grace Park/Hee Young Park, Shiho Oyama/Pernilla Lindberg, Candie Kung/Azahara Munoz, Yuri Fudoh/Jane Park, Wendy Ward/Vicky Hurst, and Leta Lindley/Chella Choi), vet/vet (Catriona Matthew/Helen Alfredsson, Se Ri Pak/Gwladys Nocera, Mi Hyun Kim/Maria Hjorth, and Sophie Gustafson/Pat Hurst), and mid-career/mid-career (Kyeong Bae/Shi Hyun Ahn and Inbee Park/Ji Young Oh), but that's enough for now!

[Update 1 (3/31/11, 6:58 am): Here's Happy Fan's overview of Korean golfers' history at the KNC and explanation of why so many of them have struggled in the season's 1st major.]

[Update 2 (7:01 am): Coincidentally, Shane Bacon is high on Americans' chances in LPGA majors this year. At least I think it's a coincidence. He doesn't strike me as a regular at Seoul, for some reason.]

[Update 3 (10:56 am): Emily Kay is high on Cristie Kerr's chances this week.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Getting to know some of this week's players.

We are just a few days away from the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the year's first major. Included in the field will be 14 players that were given sponsor exemptions. I am thinking that most of these names are unfamiliar to most people (including yours truly), so I did some digging and I hope this will help.

Lisa McCloskey (a) - Just 19 years of age she is a junior transfer from Pepperdine University and is now attending USC. In two seasons at Pepperdine she competed in 22 tournaments in which she posted 3 wins and 6 top 10s. She made news last June while playing in the US Open at Oakmont where she was in contention in the second round (+2) when she was informed of a two-stroke penalty because her caddie rode to the bathroom in a golf cart.

Danielle Kang (a) – Still a baby at 17 years of age she doesn’t play like one. An attendee of Pepperdine University she became the reigning USGA Amateur champion when she defeated Jessica Korda in the 2010 finale.

Yuri Fudoh – At 34 years of age she is a legend on the JLPGA tour. Her amazing career includes 48 victories. She headed the money list in Japan for 6 consecutive years (2000-2005) and rose as high as #4 in the Rolex world rankings in 2006. She has slipped a bit in recent years but is still the world's #29 ranked player.

Lee-Anne Pace – A former LPGA player (she lost her card in 2007), she was the Player of the Year on the European tour in 2010 when she won a total of 5 tournaments. She is 30 years old and hails from South Africa.

Chie Arimura – Plays mainly on the JLPGA tour. Just 23 years old, she is the #16-ranked player in the world. You might remember her for finishing in second place last month to Karrie Webb at the HSBC tournament in Singapore.

Melissa Reid – She was born in Derby, England, 23 years ago. She has quickly become one of the top players on the LET tour. Melissa finished in 3rd place last year (behind Pace and Laura Davies) for Player of the Year. She is currently the #42-ranked player in the world.

Ariya Jutanugarn (a) – A native of Thailand ,she is only 15 years of age. She was given a sponsors exemption earlier this year at the Honda Classic and shocked us all by finishing in a tie for 8th place.

Shin-Ae Ahn – The 20-year-old was a rookie on the Korean tour in 2009. 2010 was a breakout season for her as she won 3 times and had 8 top tens on the KLPGA.

Yukari Baba – A star on the JLPGA, she is ranked 27th in the world in the latest Rolex Rankings. She played in just 2 LPGA events last year finishing tied for 8th at the Mizuno Classic and tied for 9th at the Evian Masters.

Mi-Jeong Jeon – This 28-year-old was Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA in 2002. She then moved to the more lucrative JLPGA tour. She won 3 consecutive events during the 2007 season and shot to #1 on the JLPGA for a short time. She is currently ranked #17 in the world.

Cydney Clayton (a) – This 21-year-old was picked to represent the USA in the 2010 Curtis Cup. That same year she set a new Auburn record for lowest single season per round average of 71.45.

Kristen Park (a) – 17 years old and just a senior in high school, she was the 2010 Rolex Junior Player of the Year.

Meghan Stasi – At 32 she is the oldest amateur in the group by a wide margin. A former coach at the University of Mississippi, she is currently tied for 2nd in the Women’s Amateur Rankings.

So Yeon Ryu - This 20-year-old is one of Korea's top players. She was KLPGA rookie of the year in 2008 and is currently ranked #46 in the world. [Note: She's now a JLPGA member! --TC]

This is going to be one of the strongest fields that you will ever see at an LPGA event. As of this writing it will feature 41 of the top 50 players in the world (the previous high this year was 34 of 50 at last week's Kia Classic) giving it an 82% strength of field rating for my Player of the Year rankings. The points will be doubled since this is a major, making this tournament better than double in importance than any other thus far this year.

The Tony Jesselli Player of the Year Rankings so far this year look like this:

  1. Karrie Webb - 57.34

  2. Yani Tseng - 50.88

  3. I.K. Kim - 34.98

  4. Sandra Gal - 32.48

  5. Cristie Kerr - 32.32

  6. Sun Young Yoo - 30.26

  7. Na Yeon Choi - 27.06

  8. Michelle Wie - 23.40

  9. Suzann Petterson - 21.48

  10. Jiyai Shin - 21.08

  11. Paula Creamer - 20.02

  12. Juli Inkster - 18.72

  13. Catriona Matthew - 18.66

  14. Morgan Pressel - 18.16

  15. Amy Yang - 17.38

  16. Mindy Kim - 17.24

  17. Brittany Lincicome - 16.88

  18. Mika Miyazato - 14.10

  19. Chie Arimura - 13.60

  20. Stacy Lewis - 11.48

Monday, March 28, 2011

They have played four.... I'm ready for more.

Four of the 24 scheduled LPGA events are now in the book. The first major championship will be played this week.

I don’t get myself involved much with the after tournament recaps as we have The Constructivist, Ruthless Mike and Hound Dog who do such a fantastic job that I would rather read than write. What I like to bring to the table is statistical analysis with some humor thrown in once in awhile. My main purpose is to promote the LPGA. That said I have to take a moment to talk about Sandra Gal.

This win was a real shocker, probably the biggest surprise in a few years. Some people might want to compare it to Beatriz Recari’s win last year, but that win was not against a field that was anywhere near as strong as this one. Also she didn’t have to play the last 36 holes (in what turned out to be match play) head to head against the #2 player in the world.

As many of you know by now, my wife and I do quite a bit of traveling following these girls and in doing so get to meet most of them. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say we have never met anyone nicer than Sandra Gal. She is always ready to stop and talk to you, take a picture or sign anything you might want autographed. When asked after her victory why she wasn’t looking at Jiyai while she was putting for birdie on 18 she replied, “I didn’t want to go to a playoff but I never want to wish an opponent to miss a putt.” That is so typical Sandra. We all know about Paula and Jiyai (who lost with lots of class), but it is the unsung heroes like Sandra Gal and many others who make the fan experience the truly wonderful thing that it is.

With the year's 1st major coming up this week it will give players who are off to a bad start a chance to turn things around very quickly and it will give the players who are already playing well a chance to separate themselves from the rest of the playing field in the race for the major awards.

Current Player of the Year standings:

Karrie Webb – 69 points

Yani Tseng – 45 points

Sandra Gal – 31 points

I.K. Kim – 22 points

Creamer/Kerr - 18 points

Current Vare Trophy standings:

Yani Tseng – 69.93

Mindy Kim – 70.29

I.K. Kim – 70.33

Karrie Webb – 70.47

Sandra Gal – 70.64

Current Rookie of the Year standings:

Jenny Shin – 44 points

Hee Kyung Seo – 34 points

Christel Boeljon – 26 points

Jennifer Song – 26 points

Jenny Suh – 21 points

Sybase update: As most of you know by now, the top 10 players after 2 rounds of the Avnet Classic who haven’t already qualified will get into the Sybase Match Play Championship. After those players are determined the top 4 players from this year’s money list who are not in already will qualify. With 2 events to go here are the leading candidates:

Sandra Gal - $ 275,045 (she is a lock)

Mindy Kim - $ 79,905

Marcy Hart - $ 46,046

Pornanong Phatlum - $ 41,425

Amanda Blumenherst - $ 39,521

Chella Choi - $ 37,966

Kyeong Bae - $ 35,192

Pat Hurst – $ 33,158

Natalie Gulbis - $ 32,625

Other Interesting Notes:

Michelle Wie moves back into the top 10 this week moving from #11 to #9.

Inbee Park is the only player to drop out.

Sandra Gal takes a giant leap moving from #100 in the world to #44.

Whoever said that “driving is for show but putting is for dough” certainly knew what he was talking about. Here are some of this week's Kia Classic putting statistics.

Sandra Gal – 104 putts

Jiyai Shin – 119 putts (finished one stroke back)

Paula Creamer – 132 putts (finished 17 strokes back)

My hard-to-believe fact of the week:

Paula Creamer has 72 top 10 finishes in her career. She is 24 years old. No other active LPGA member under the age of 30 has more.

Top 5s for Tiffany Joh and Hannah Yun in Futures Tour Opener

Taiwan's Tzu-Chi Lin birdied the final hole to take the Florida's Natural Charity Classic from Floridian Jackie Borenborg, but I was particularly pleased to see that Tiffany Joh finished in 3rd and Hannah Yun in a tie for 5th with Mo Martin and Jennifer Johnson, who lost a playoff in the Monday qualifier for the last spot into the Kia Classic.

For Joh, who played some great golf Down Under, this finish gets her 2011 Futures Tour campaign off on the right foot. For Yun, who didn't touch a club from the time she got Lyme Disease late in the 2010 Futures Tour season last summer through the months she spent in Korea in the fall and winter, including time in a Zen Temple, this was a complete 180. I'm excited for both players and wish them the best in early April when they next tee it up on the Futures Tour!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kia Classic Sunday: March Madness--Sandra Gal Takes Down Ji-Yai Shin

Ji-Yai Shin didn't have her putter going in the final round of the Kia Classic, but even though she bogeyed 3 of her 1st 6 holes and was 2 behind Sandra Gal after an uncharacteristic birdieless 41, it looked like she had righted the ship on the back 9, making birdies on 10 to stay within 2 of the lead and on 13 to catch a suddenly-shaky leader at -14. When Gal airmailed the 14th green and Shin stuck her approach, I figured another 2-shot swing was in the works and Shin would find her 9th LPGA victory a surprising walk in the park down the home stretch. Instead, Gal canned an improbable par save to stay tied for the lead when Shin failed to make her birdie putt. Well, when Shin birdied the par-3 15th to get back to E on her day and take a 1-shot lead on Gal, that's when I knew things were over. I went back to reading Amy Chua's compelling Tiger Mom memoir with only half my attention to the screen. Sure, I was disappointed that Na Yeon Choi's aggressive play didn't pay off the back 9, that In-Kyung Kim and Michelle Wie couldn't get putts to drop, and that Cristie Kerr ran out of holes--and I was pleased for all the Kraft Nabisco Championship 11th-hour qualifiers (and horrified at Moira Dunn's 77 that dropped her off the list)--but I was already thinking about how I would describe Shin's win.

Instead, Shin couldn't buy a birdie putt over her last 3 holes and Gal kept the pressure on the former #1 player in the world with a birdie on the 16th and a stuck lob wedge on 18th that was inside Shin's stuck approach on the par-5. Both would have short birdie putts, but Shin's was downhill and slippery, while Gal's was a true tap-in. Still, I almost fell off the couch when Shin's too-hard, pushed putt hit the right edge of the cup and spun out hard. Just like that, the 100th-ranked player in the world had beaten the #2 player in the world. Even though I have had Gal at #18 among those yet to win on the LPGA since last January, I never saw this one coming. In fact, if I had had time to update my list, I would have ranked her lower. As Hound Dog can tell you, it's super-rare for players ranked this low to win against strong fields. But that's just what Sandra Gal did! It's March madness, baby!

[Update 1 (9:35 pm): Hound Dog's overview reminds me how close Shin came to a 2-shot swing in her favor on the 12th, as well. Somewhere in the multiverse, perhaps in most of the other universes, Shin made up 6 shots in those 3 holes and walked away with an easy win. But not in this one!]

[Update 2 (10:57 pm): Looking over's notes and interviews and thinking more about today's round, this really was like a classic upset on the NCAA. The big-time team made enough mistakes early to let the little guys think they could win it, expended a lot of energy playing catch-up, couldn't put the game away when they finally took the lead, and lost when the underdog went into overdrive in the last minute. There are no buzzer-beaters in golf, but that approach by Gal was like making one from way outside the 3-point line!]

[Update 3 (3/28/11, 3:36 pm): Here are bangkokbobby and Hound Dog!]

Kia Classic Saturday: Shin-Gal Shootout in the Works

With onechan having a sleepover and the Kia Classic leaderboard down, I don't have too much to add to bangkokbobby's excellent synopsis and overview of the action on moving day. Sandra Gal, currently ranked 100th in the world, hung tough with the world #2 Ji-Yai Shin yesterday, as both shot 3-under-par 70s that got them to -14 and -15, respectively. Barring disaster from both of them, I expect Sunday to be much like Saturday.

Well, that's if those in the lead chase pack can't put together brilliant rounds tomorrow. A sweet 65 by Na Yeon Choi leapfrogged her ahead of final-round playing partner In-Kyung Kim, -9 to -8. Anna Nordqvist shot a solid 71 to pull ahead of Mindy Kim, -7 to -6. Juli Inkster followed up Friday's 70 with a 69 yesterday to pull within 1 shot of Amanda Blumenherst, with whom she'll be playing when the sun comes up today. And media magnets Michelle Wie and Beatriz Recari will start their rounds, like Inkster, 10 shots behind Shin.

At least they're closer than Cristie Kerr (-4), Suzann Pettersen and Ya Ni Tseng (-3), and Mika Miyazato and Inbee Park (-2). Even further off the pace, I'm still psyched to see pairings like Stacy Lewis and Song-Hee Kim, Moira Dunn and Shanshan Feng, Ai Miyazato and Sun Young Yoo, and Jane Park and Pornanong Phatlum, although it would be nice if they were fighting to get into contention rather than for a top-20 finish. helpfully reminds us that a large number of golfers will be playing for the final 10 spots into next week's major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. I'm rooting for Mindy, Moira, and Pornanong to be among those who get to play next week.

Hoping to catch up on the coverage I missed from the 1st and 3rd rounds before the final round starts. We'll see!

[Update 1 (10:33 am): Here's Hound Dog's look back at round 3 and ahead to round 4. I agree with him completely. Even though Shin uncharacteristically wilted weeks ago on the LET in Australia over her final 9 holes in the face of Ya Ni Tseng's brilliance, I think her swing and confidence have come light-years since then.]

[Update 2 (10:36 am): Here's Ruthless Mike with some great parallels between this week's LPGA and PGA events.]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kia Classic Friday: Ji-Yai Shin's 64 Opens Up a Big Lead

Ji-Yai Shin began the Kia Classic on Thursday with a birdieless 37, but after going 33-32-32 over her next 27 holes and running up her bogey-free streak to 32 holes and counting, she has already gotten to -12 and has opened up a 4-shot lead on Sandra Gal, who was making a little run of her own before darkness halted play on Friday. Gal apparently loves the 5th through 8th holes at Industry Hills: the only one of them she hasn't already birdied twice is the par-4 6th. If she can pick up where she left off on the back this morning, and nobody else from the lead chase pack can keep pace with her, Gal can join Shin well ahead of the field with 36 holes left to play.

Amanda Blumenherst struggled in the late afternoon yesterday after her opening 66, but she held it together and is still -6 with 9 holes to go in her 2nd round. However, she has the narrower front-side to play this morning, so her odds of passing Chella Choi, whose earlier 68 left her at -6 through 36, might be pretty long. In-Kyung Kim, meanwhile, has the 14th through 18th on which to try to improve on her -5 standing and separate herself from Sun Young Yoo and Anna Nordqvist, the only other golfers within 7 shots of Shin's lead. The scary thing about that lead is that Shin actually missed several great birdie opportunities coming down the stretch at Industry Hills. Her competitors have to hope that her run of 14 birdies in 22 holes is over for good and that she doesn't begin a new birdie barrage when she finally starts her own moving day sometime this afternoon.

It'll be interesting to see if Ya Ni Tseng and Cristie Kerr can get some momentum on moving day with strong finishes to their 2nd rounds this morning--both are at -2 with the same holes left to play as Kim (in fact, Kerr is paired with her and Morgan Pressel, who like Kristy McPherson is at +1 with 5 holes left to play on the back, 1 shot behind Angela Stanford). Surprisingly, Karrie Webb, who's going for her 3rd LPGA victory in a row, is fighting just to make the cut. She's at +2 with those same 5 holes to play.

There are a bunch of great players who will need fantastic moving days to put themselves into the conversation. Mika Miyazato and Michelle Wie are at -3 after struggling relative to their fast starts on Thursday. Ai Miyazato and Katherine Hull are at -2. Na Yeon Choi and Suzann Pettersen are at -1.

Still other equally great players are sweating out the cut line. I already mentioned Webb, who should make the cut if she can join Paula Creamer at +2 or pass her, but Song-Hee Kim is +3 (T70) with 7 holes on the front left to go and Jee Young Lee and Eun-Hee Ji, who are at +4, have even less golf left to play this morning. Others who hope to be in the top 70 include Seon Hwa Lee, Shiho Oyama, and Nicole Castrale--all at +3--but there's no hope of making the cut for defending champion and 2011 rookie Hee Kyung Seo, along with Hee-Won Han, Se Ri Pak, Natalie Gulbis, and Helen Alfredsson and a host of players from the new blood and young gun generations on the LPGA.

More after the 2nd round is complete!

[Update 1 (3/27/11, 1:06 am): Wow, Mindy Kim ended up firing a 66, Sandra Gal a 68, and both In-Kyung Kim and Song-Hee Kim a 69! Those are some strong finishes right there! So Gal got within 1 of Shin and Inky within 5. Not half bad!]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kia Classic Thursday: Blumenherst Leads Gal and Wie

With Hound Dog, bangkokbobby, and Ruthless Mike ably covering the 1st round of the Kia Classic (which I haven't yet seen because I went to a midnight IMAX showing of Sucker Punch) and's online scoreboard down, I'm going to be a little while with my own observations. Stay tuned for an update later tonight!

[Update 1 (11:44 am): Hey, the leaderboard is working again and I have to mention how psyched I am at how many of my favorite golfers--and precision players--handled the length and wetness of Industry Hills on Thursday. With tee times delayed 3 hours, I might even get to catch some of them when I get home this evening!]

[Update 2 (7:20 pm): A few observations on interesting twists and turns from the 1st round.

World #2 Ji-Yai Shin failed to break 70 on the Asian swing and salvaged a disappointing American debut last week with a final-round 69, her 1st sub-70 round of the year on the LPGA. But for her 1st 10 holes yesterday, it looked like she was backsliding, having bogeyed 2 of her 1st holes on the back to begin her round. She fought back with 5 birdies in her last 8 holes, however, to claw her way back to a 3-under-par 70. She's still in birdie mode today, but more on that in my Friday post!

Suzann Pettersen has had a similatly slow start to her season and a similarly slow start to yesterday's round, but she bounced back from a birdieless 40 on the front with a bogey-free 32 on the back. She still has only 1 sub-70 round all season, but seems to be headed in a better direction.

In-Kyung Kim was +1 through 3 but played her last 15 holes bogey-free and made 4 birdies along the way for her 70.

Mika Miyazato birdied 6 of her 1st 16 holes and was -4 with 2 holes to play, but lost her chance to break 70 with a bogey on the 17th.

Ai Miyazato hit 16 greens but had 5 birdies and 4 bogeys!

Na Yeon Choi bogeyed the 10th, her 1st hole, and the 9th, her 18th, but she made 2 birdies in a 3-hole stretch on the front to ensure she'd stay at even par.

Moira Dunn was -1 until she doubled the 8th hole, her 17th.]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Golfers Support Japan Relief Efforts

I've been trying to keep track of the many golfers who have stepped up to support Japan relief efforts. Here's as complete a list as I can come up with:

Makeruna Nippon/Never Give Up, Japan: A fundraising organization created by Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, and Momoko Ueda to support Civic Force, a Japanese emergency response team. They also have a site for giving in Japanese yen and British pounds. See and ProGolfTalk for more.

Fukuoka JLPGA fundraiser: Golf Girl passes along the news that 11 JLPGA golfers collected over 75 million yen (over $925,000) at Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka on the southwestern island of Kyushu: Yui Kawahara, who organized it, along with Chie Arimura, Shinobu Moromizato, Miho Koga, Yukari Baba, Miki Saiki, Akane Iijima, Rui Kitada, Ritsuko Ryu, Yumiko Baba, and Nozomi Sato. Check out her post for her own overview of relief support efforts by golfers and others in Japan.

Studio Alice Ladies: This 4th JLPGA event to be cancelled has announced that its entire purse, 60 million yen (over $740,000), will be donated to relief efforts.

Mi-Jeong Jeon: The JLPGA star gave nearly $125,000.

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup: The title sponsor donated over $53,000 from birdies and eagles by players, while Karrie Webb, Paula Creamer, Sun Young Yoo, Sarah Jane Smith, and Sandra Gal donated all (or, in Webb's case, half, or $100,000) of their winnings to Japan relief efforts.

Ya Ni Tseng: $50,000 to UNICEF.

Ryuji Imada: His handwritten note imploring fellow PGA Tour golfers to join him in supporting Japan relief efforts inspired Brandt Snedeker, Bobby Gates, and others to tie their initial donations to birdies they make. See Devil Ball Golf for more.

K.J. Choi: $100,000 to the American Red Cross.

Bubba Watson: $50,000.

[Update 1 (11:39 am): At the end of a very funny rookie blog post on getting lost in Christchurch, which she wrote before she knew about the terrible earthquake that hit that exact part of New Zealand, Tiffany Joh points to ways to support relief efforts there and in Japan.]

[Update 2 (3/31/11, 10:59 am): Whoa, check out how much Ryo Ishikawa could conceivably be contributing this year! All his 2011 earnings plus 100,000 yen per birdie!]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kia Classic Preview, Predictions, Pairings

The run-up to next week's Kraft Nabisco Championship, the 1st LPGA major of 2011, continues this week with the Kia Classic, which boasts a major-quality field, including defending champion and 2011 LPGA rookie Hee Kyung Seo and Monday qualifier Lee-Anne Pace, the LET's top dog from last year who's hoping to replicate the then-KLPGA star's non-member win this year. To do that, she'll have to outdo the hottest golfers on the LPGA, such as Karrie Webb, who's looking for her 3rd-straight victory, and Ya Ni Tseng, who's looking for her 4th major-tour victory of the season. From's preview and notes and interviews, it's clear the tour's return to Industry Hills, which will be playing to a par 73 of over 6700 yards, will be quite a challenge for everyone. As Hound Dog points out in his preview, the recent and forecasted rains won't make things any easier. Based on this hole-by-hole breakdown, here are my entries in this week's PakPicker at Seoul

1. Webb
2. Tseng
3. Kerr
4. Creamer
5. Yoo
6. Choi Na Yeon
7. Pettersen
8. Yang Amy
9. Stanford
10. Kim In-Kyung
11. Kim Song-Hee
12. Lincicome

Alts: Park Inbee, Wie, Pressel

Yes, even though Industry Hills is Amy Hung's home course and she's feeling healthy for the first time in a long time, I went with a mix dominated by straight shooters and bombers this week. But with most everyone in the same boat in terms of unfamiliarity with the course, the eventual winner could come from almost any of Thursday's pairings. Here are some that stand out to me:

10th tee, 8:35 am: Ya Ni Tseng, Karrie Webb, Catriona Matthew
1st tee, 12:10 pm: Ai Miyazato, Michelle Wie, Maria Hjorth
1st tee, 12:00 pm: Paula Creamer, Mika Miyazato, Juli Inkster
10th tee, 8:55 am: Cristie Kerr, In-Kyung Kim, Morgan Pressel
10th tee, 12:50 pm: Mina Harigae, Moira Dunn, Stephanie Sherlock
10th tee, 12:00 pm: Na Yeon Choi, Anna Nordqvist, Grace Park
10th tee, 12:30 pm: Seon Hwa Lee, Hee-Won Han, Beatriz Recari
1st tee, 8:25 am: Stacy Lewis, Vicky Hurst, Eun-Hee Ji
10th tee, 8:45 am: Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Kristy McPherson
10th tee, 12:10 pm: Ji-Yai Shin, Sun Young Yoo, Michele Redman
1st tee, 12:20 pm: Inbee Park, Stacy Prammanasudh, Shanshan Feng
10th tee, 11:50 am: Hee Kyung Seo, Candie Kung, Azahara Munoz
10th tee, 7:15 am: Jessica Korda, Belen Mozo, Paola Moreno

When I see how many very good golfers are playing on the Futures Tour in Florida this week, I'm even more amazed at the depth of talent on the LPGA. It'll be interesting to see who rises to the top this week--on both tours!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monday Qualifiers for Kia Classic Are Announced

The 2 Monday qualifiers for this week's Kia Classic have been announced.

1- Lee Anne Pace
2- Jane Rah

Pace was born in South Africa and was the LET's Player of the Year in 2010, winning 5 times on tour last season.

Rah currently resides in Torrance, California, and was born in Aurora, Illinois.
She just missed getting her LPGA card last year, finishing 11th on the Duramed Futures Tour money list. The 20-year-old competed in 17 events and made every cut. She had 6 top 10 finishes, including a runner up. She had a very impressive 70.76 per round average, which ranked 3rd on the tour.

Monday, March 21, 2011

We Have Played 3...and What Do I See?

3 of the LPGA’s 24 tournaments are now complete and here are some observations.

The only person to finish in the top 10 in all 3 tournaments is Karrie Webb who has finished 3rd once and has won twice.

Paula Creamer and Yani Tseng are the only other golfers to finish in the top 5 twice.

Brittany Lincicome, Cristie Kerr and Sun Young Yoo are the only girls (besides Webb) to have 3 top 20 finishes.

Solheim Cup Girls Creamer, Lincicome and Kerr have all made the Titleholders Tournament this week. They join Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Webb and Yoo.

The new Rolex rankings have Paula Creamer as the only player breaking into the top ten this week (moving from 12 to 9), while Michelle Wie falls out (dropping from 8 to 11).

Karrie Webb has shot under par in 10 of her 11 rounds this year.

The race for the 2011 Vare Trophy looks this way so far:

Karrie Webb 68.91
Yani Tseng 69.64
I.K. Kim 70.38
Paula Creamer 70.55
Sun Young Yoo 70.64

The Race for Player of the Year after 3 events:

Karrie Webb 69 Points
Yani Tseng 39
Paula Creamer 18
I.K. Kim 13
Lincicome & Wie 12

Other Interesting Notes:

The Sybase Championship is around the corner. It is a match play event.
The field will consist of 64 players. It will be made up of the top 48 from the 2010 LPGA money list, 2 sponsor exemptions (one has been announced as Belen Mozo), the top 10 after 2 rounds of the Avnet Classic who haven’t already qualified and the top 4 players on the 2011 LPGA money list who aren’t already in. With only 3 tournaments to go before Sybase here are the top 4 based on the 2011 money that would get in:

Mindy Kim $36,459
Natalie Gulbis 32,625
Kyeong Bae 31,222
Sandra Gal 20,244 (tie)
Sarah Jane Smith 20,244 (tie)

I will be paying very close attention to this event as it is being held just a couple of miles from my home town and I will keep everyone posted on the names of the ladies who will be added.

Lucky 13 – Pornanong Phatlum who started the year ranked #228 in the world has finished 13th in both the events she has played in (although the money she earned at the Honda Classic does not count on the money list as the LPGA does not recognize sponsor exemption purses in international tournaments). She has moved up 55 spots and is currently ranked #173.

My hard to believe stat of the week:

Gwladys Nocera has played 10 rounds this year (9 of them over par) and is a total of 38 strokes over par.

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup Sunday: Stanford Opens Door, Webb 1st Through It for Her 2nd-Straight Win

Sunday struggles struck RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup 1st- and 2nd-round leader Angela Stanford again, as she opened the door to her small lead chase pack with a couple of missed tap-ins on the front and many missed opportunities the rest of the way. By the end of the day, she had fallen to 5th at -9, passed by Cristie Kerr (69), Paula Creamer (66), Brittany Lincicome (70), and Karrie Webb (66). Kerr, Creamer, and Webb charged as Stanford faltered, the 1st by making 4 birdies in her last 8 holes, the next by making 8 birdies in her last 14 holes (after dropping to -2 with back-to-back bogeys early on), and the last by making 6 birdies in her last 14 holes. When the dust settled, Webb had gotten to -12, Creamer to -11, and Kerr to -10. Meanwhile, Lincicome was extending her bogey-free streak to 39 holes, then 45 holes, and got to -12 with 3 holes left to play after making her 2nd birdie on a back-9 par 5 of her round. Despite fighting her game as she had on moving day, with her ability to make clutch putts (and chip-ins!), the tournament was hers to win. But she finished par-par-bogey and just like that, Karrie Webb had won her 2nd-straight LPGA tournament and 38th in her Hall of Fame career. As a result, she was able to split her "winnings" with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation and Japan relief efforts. As she explained:

at the start of the day I was playing to make as much money as I could for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation, and I talked earlier in the week on behalf of--the reason why I'm involved with them is because of my coach Kelvin Haller, who's been a quadriplegic for 20 years now. So you know, that's why I've been involved with them, and it's near and dear to my heart to be associated with them. And I think they'll understand that I am splitting the 200,000 between them and the relief efforts in Japan. You know, I've been glued to the TV watching it for the past, what, 10 days, nine days now, and you know, it's just unbelievable what's going on over there. And Japan, the fans, the people and many businesses over there have supported me throughout my entire career. So you know, I feel like it's just the least I could do. and bangkokbobby have more on the leaders, so I'll look further down the leaderboard. It was a bittersweet Sunday for 3 players I'd been rooting for in particular. Seon Hwa Lee birdied her 1st 2 holes to get to -8, but her game couldn't take the rigors of serious contention, as she faltered with 4 bogeys and only 2 birdies the rest of the way to end the day where she started at -6. Yes, it was good enough for her 1st top 10 since mid-September 2010, but I'm sure she expected more from herself. Similarly, Mina Harigae (who was featured on after the 2nd round) was high on the leaderboard for much of the day, at -8 from the 5th through 9th holes and again after a birdie on the par-5 11th erased a bogey on the previous hole. But she finished bogey-par-par-par-double-bogey to fall all the way to -4 and a tie for 13th with Brittany Lang, Shanshan Feng, Pornanong Phatlum, and low rookie Jenny Shin. -8 proved to be a barrier for Mindy Kim, as well. That's where she started the day, but after a trio of early bogeys she needed to seriously grind over her last 12 holes. Even though she did, making 2 birdies down the stretch to return to -8, she missed out on qualifying for the Kraft Nabisco Championship by 1 shot. It's too bad Lee, Harigae, and Kim couldn't finish as strong as '06ers Morgan Pressel and Sun Young Yoo--the former birdied 4 of her last 8 holes and the latter 4 of her last 6 to tie for 7th at -7. But that's life on the LPGA. There's always somebody going on a serious birdie train somewhere on the course.

It never really happened for world #1 Ya Ni Tseng, #2 Ji-Yai Shin, or heralded rookie Jennifer Song this week, but they did post 69s on Sunday to sneak into the top 30. Veteran Pat Hurst also shot a 69 that allowed her to squeeze into the top 20, at T19 with the surprising Jean Reynolds and Samantha Richdale. But they were rightly overshadowed by the fireworks from Webb and Creamer, who are now #1 and #3 on the money list. This week's Kia Classic just got even more interesting!

[Update 1 (7:25 am): Here's more from IceCat from Wildfire.]

[Update 2 (11:55 am): Here are Hound Dog's final-round play-by-play and epilogue.]

[Update 3 (2:24 pm): Here's Stephanie Wei on Webb's win and the significance of the Founders Cup.]

[Update 4 (6:00 pm): Karrie Webb is now just behind In-Kyung Kim in the Rolex Rankings, at #8 in the world. Cristie Kerr is now #3 (leaping ahead of the dormant Na Yeon Choi and Suzann Pettersen), while Paula Creamer is now #9.]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup Saturday: Stanford Extends Lead to 3 over Lincicome

With Hound Dog and bangkokbobby doing a fantastic job of summarizing and contextualizing the 2nd-round results from the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup--not to mention looking ahead to the possibility of Cristie Kerr once again denying leader Angela Stanford a win, even from 5 back--I'm happy to stick to my color commentary role from the 1st round, particularly given that I can't match the timeliness of Ruthless Mike's overview.

Let me start with the tv coverage: on the downside, I was unpleasantly surprised that we didn't even get any highlights from those going off in the morning groups before Golf Channel went live--or even any details about Stanford's incandescent 66 and Kerr's flawless 68--but it was wonderful to see the mix of players from around the world who were playing some pretty good golf in the afternoon. One of my faves, Seon Hwa Lee, was sticking her irons and playing flawless golf until a bogey on the 18th dropped her back to -6, along with another of my faves, Mina Harigae, who actually got to -8 in the morning before finishing +2 over her last 6 holes, and one of onechan's faves, Karrie Webb, who poured in 5 birdies over her last 8 holes and 6 over her last 11. It was awesome to see Lee and Webb joined by Mindy Kim (who kept her composure while her threesome was on the clock, although she could never regain the form that saw her open with 5 straight birdies before the cameras started rolling and ended up 4 behind Stanford), Brittany Lincicome (who scraped it around but was making almost everything she looked at, from improbable par saves to electrifying birdies, and is now alone in 2nd at -9, 3 shots behind the leader), Beatriz Recari and Sandra Gal (who did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things as they snuck into the top 10 at -4), Jennifer Song (who played pretty badly when she got Golf Channel's Rookie Spotlight), Stacy Lewis and Song-Hee Kim (who aren't playing close to their best but are hanging in there at -1), and even world #2 Ji-Yai Shin (who barely made the cut after an uncharacteristic 75).

I was also pleased at how well Jane Crafter and Brian Hammonds introduced the players who made it onto the coverage. They got everyone's basic stories right and didn't make any factual errors, which is really all you can ask for from television. If I had one quibble, though, it would be the lack of telling details. Why not mention, for instance, that Seon Hwa Lee joined the million dollar club 2 of her 1st 3 seasons on tour and was never lower than 12th on the money list in those years? The LPGA doesn't have all that many active 4-time winners--Lee is 1 of 8, with as many wins as Angela Stanford and Na Yeon Choi--so Golf Channel ought to be putting the spotlight on them when they can.

Speaking of spotlights, I'd like to see a rundown of rounds of the day near the end of pre-Sunday coverage on Golf Channel. While we got to see much of Webb's 67 and Lincicome's 68, what about others who broke 70 on moving day? It wouldn't take long to put up a graphic showing Stanford's 66, 68s by Kerr, Stacy Prammanasudh, Anna Grzebien, and 69s by Lee, Brittany Lang, Amy Hung, Jenny Suh, Pornanong Phatlum, Jimin Kang, and Pat Hurst and to say a little bit about a few of them. And would it have killed them to mention how close rookie Harukyo Nomura came to making the cut? She was -1 over her last 5 holes (on the front), but still came up 1 shot shy of the cut line. Still, she tied the much more experienced Moira Dunn and beat much more ballyhooed golfers like fellow rookies Tiffany Joh and Sara Brown (who made nice comebacks to fight back to +4), international stars Katherine Hull, Jee Young Lee, Hee-Won Han, Grace Park, Helen Alfredsson, Karen Stupples, Gwladys Nocera, Guilia Sergas, Azahara Munoz, Mariajo Uribe, and Belen Mozo, and Americans Kristy McPherson, Amanda Blumenherst, Jessica Korda, Beth Bader, Jill McGill, and Sherri Steinhauer.

So here are the final-round pairings. The winner's going to come from 1 of the last 5. Will Stanford go wire-to-wire for her 5th career win? Will Lincicome, Kim, or Kerr haul her down? Or will we see charges from the Creamer-Prammanasudh, Harigae-Yoo, or Webb-Lee groups? Golf Channel coverage starts at 7 pm....

[Update 1 (10:12 am): Here are's notes and interviews.]

[Update 2 (12:00 pm): Ryan Ballengee focuses on Angela Stanford's competiveness and familiarity with the course conditions this week.]

[Update 3 (12:11 pm): Check out IceCat's on-course reports at Seoul!]

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup Friday: Stanford's 66 Puts Her 1-Up on Lincicome and Song

Since, bangkokbobby and Ruthless Mike have already done such a bang-up job in their overviews of the 1st round of the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup (not to mention other goodies), and since I'm so incredibly late with my own post, I'll just chip in with a little color commentary here.

Top Big-Name Surprises on the Upside

1. Angela Stanford: Once in the conversation about best American on the LPGA, she slipped to #18 in my final ranking of 2010 (down from #9 the year before and #7 in 2008) and #19 in my pre-season prediction. So of course she bounces back from a double bogey with an eagle from a fairway bunker to close out the front 9 and throws 3 birdies at each side to boot in her 1st tournament of 2011! And she burned the hole a few other times, as well. On Thursday I picked other straight shooters to finish ahead of her (Cristie Kerr, Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo), but she's making me kick myself for leaving her out of my top 15 entirely!

2. Sophie Gustafson: The LET's top dog in 2009 plummeted all the way down to #43 by the end of the 2010 LPGA season, but she still has plenty of game, as evidenced by her 3 birdies and eagle in her 1st 5 holes on the front (her back) yesterday. Of course, she wouldn't be Sophie Gustafson if she didn't ride the roller coaster over the rest of her round!

3. Brittany Lincicome: She had 2 top 20s on the Asian swing, but I picked other bombers to do better this week--Ya Ni Tseng, Karrie Webb, Amy Yang--as I was worried about her accuracy off the tee. I still am, but since no longer includes performance stats on players' scorecards and Golf Channel didn't have any footage of the morning rounds, I have no idea how she made her 6 birdies on Friday.

4. Aree Song: The former teen phenom who started her comeback by medalling at Q-School kept on rolling with a bogey-free 67 in her 1st round of the 2011 LPGA season!

5. Seon Hwa Lee: Starting on the back with Brittany Lang and Kyeong Bae, she won the battle of the '06ers despite going +2 in her 1st 5 holes, thanks to 6 birdies the rest of the way. Her 69 was 1 better than Bae and 3 better than Lang, but more important, it was a huge turnaround from her 80-75 finish in Singapore. I'd love to see her return to the LPGA's super-elite, where she was in her 1st 3 seasons on tour!

Honorable Mention: Julieta Granada. Except for a double at 8 and a bogey at 17--drat those penultimate holes!--this '06er played some really solid golf on her way to her 71. Given that she went under par only 14% of the time last year and that this was her 1st LPGA round since closing out 2010 by going 78-76, I'm really pleased for her.

Top Big-Name Surprises on the Downside

1. Ya Ni Tseng: The world #1 erased her 2 birdies in her 1st 5 holes with a double bogey on the par-4 3rd, then bogeyed the 10th and 11th before getting back to +1 with a walkoff birdie.

2. Katherine Hull: She bogeyed 3 of her 1st 6 holes on the back, birdied 3 of her next 5 as she made the turn onto the front, but then closed with 3 bogeys and only 1 birdie in her last 7 holes. The result: a 74 that left her way back in the pack.

3. Jee Young Lee: I'm guessing she's coming off an injury that cut last season short and gave her a late start to this one, but even so I'm surprised that she was so rusty yesterday, with 5 bogeys and a double that more than offset her 3 birdies. Looks like her 6-event top-20 run dating back to last October is coming to an end this week.

4. Christina Kim: Playing with Morgan Pressel and Vicky Hurst, she birdied the 1st and finished -2 over her last 6 holes, but in between she made 4 bogeys and a double to open with a 75. Someone remind her this is a Solheim Cup year!

5. Azahara Munoz: Last season's Rookie of the Year may have gone to Arizona State, but it sure didn't show on Friday, as she opened bogey-bogey-double, closed bogey-par-par-double, and only made 1 birdie in between on the way to her 78.

Dishonorable Mention: Grace Park: Coming off yet another medical exemption, she was -1 with the last 4 holes on the front left to play. But she almost batted for the bogey cycle, making a bogey, a double, and a triple to open with a crushing 77.

Top No-Name Surprises on the Upside: Just look at the top of the leaderboard! 68s by Mina Harigae, Amelia Lewis, and Nannette Hill? 69s from Jean Reynolds, Mindy Kim, and Dewi Claire Schreefel? Is this the LPGA or the Cactus Tour? Just kidding, ladies! Keep up the great golf!

Top No-Name Surprises on the Downside: As you might expect, they're clustered near the bottom of the leaderboard--an 81 from Alison Walshe, a 78 from Tiffany Joh, a 77 from Sarah Kemp, a 75 from Cindy LaCrosse--but you certainly wouldn't have expected such high numbers from how well they played on the other side of the globe on the LET last month. Sara Brown's opening 77 can be attributed to rust, at least....

Best Aspects of Golf Channel's Coverage: That one's easy: Juli Inkster! 'Nuff said! Although the profiles of the founders they featured were very well done, too.

Worst Aspect of Golf Channel's Coverage: Except for a few missed putts from Ya Ni Tseng, a mention of Ai Miyazato at the top of the broadcast and of Na Yeon Choi by Juli Inkster, and an appearance or 2 from Hee Kyung Seo whenever she happened to be standing near Cristie Kerr or Angela Stanford, I can't remember seeing or hearing about any Asian players. Not that I don't enjoy watching Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Vicky Hurst, Natalie Gulbis, Cristie Kerr, and Angela Stanford, but it would be nice to find out how non-Americans are doing in more detail than the scoreboard crawl gives!

Time to watch the 2nd round! I haven't even looked at an updated scoreboard yet--I know, very unlike me....

Friday, March 18, 2011

Meet Harukyo Nomura (野村 敏京)

Here's what I know about 18-year-old Harukyo Nomura (野村 敏京), the LPGA rookie who's making her professional debut today at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.

At last year's LPGA Q-School, she squeaked into Category 20 via a playoff that never should have happened (in correcting their error, the LPGA chose to err on the side of inclusiveness). Prior to that, she played several JLPGA events as an amateur. Here's how she did, in reverse chronological order:

Nov 2010 Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies MC (73-72); Ito-En Ladies MC (78-73)

Oct 2010 Hisako Higuchi IDC Otsuka Kagu Ladies T49 (74-73); Fujitsu Ladies T12 (67-74-69); Japan Women's Open 46th (75-73-78-76)

Sept 2010 Golf5 Ladies T58 (72-71-76)

Jun 2010 Nichirei Ladies MC 77-71; Suntory Ladies Open MC (78-75)

May 2010 Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open T18 (72-72-68)

Apr 2010 Nishijin Ladies Classic T25 (73-74-72); Studio Alice Ladies T18 (77-72-72)

In 2009, she made it to the quarterfinals in the Japan Women's Amateur, was low amateur at Japan Women's Open (a 73-69-70-74 performance earned her a tie for 15th), and finished 2nd to Chie Arimura at the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies.

As you can see, Nomura hasn't been playing close to her best since last May. And I can't imagine more trying circumstances for her 1st round as a pro. At least she was 1st off the back 9 with fellow rookie Kimberly Kim. Here's a link to her scorecard.

[Update 1 (3/20/11, 12:12 am): Can't say I'm surprised she missed the cut, but she made a nice comeback to come within a shot of making it.]

3 Consecutive Weeks of LPGA Golf

After an absence of four entire months, the LPGA returns to American soil this week.

In fact this is the first of three consecutive weeks that our girls will be out west. The 3rd and final week will bring us this year’s first major championship.

March 18 – 20 RR Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup
Wildfire Golf Club, Phoenix, AZ

Purse: $1,000,000 – Donated Entirely to Charity

Field: 134 Players

Sponsor Exemptions: Shasta Averyhardt and Jennifer Johnson

Monday Qualifiers: Harukyo Nomura and Amelia Lewis

The field includes 22 of the top 50 Players in the World (which gives this a 44% strength of schedule in my player of the year system).

Notables who are missing this week because they were planning on playing in Japan include Inbee Park, Hee Young Park, Teresa Lu, Meena Lee, Shiho Oyama and Soo-Yun Kang. Michelle Wie stated she is not attending because this is exam week. In-Kyung Kim can certainly be excused for missing this week as she gave her entire winners check ($220,000) to charity last November. Na Yeon Choi, who will not be playing, gives a percentage of her winnings to charity on a regular basis.

Other notables who chose not to participate in this most charitable event are Suzanne Petterson, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, Maria Hjorth, Anna Nordqvist, Catriona Mathhew, Janice Moody and Se Ri Pak.

For more details (including TV times) see reports posted by Hound Dog and The Constructivist.

March 24 – 27 Kia Classic
Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms
City of Industry, CA

Purse: $1,700,000

Field: 140 players (Including 2 qualifiers yet to be determined)

Defending Champion: Hee Kyung Seo

Sponsor Exemptions: Shasta Averyhardt, Blair O'Neal and Julie Yang (a)

As of this writing the field includes 33 of the top 50 players in the worrld. The missing 17 are non-LPGA members. This will get a very strong 66% strength of schedule in my player of the year system.

TV Times: (EST) – all Golf Channel (Live)
March 24 - 6:30 to 8:30 PM
March 25 - 6:30 to 8:30 PM
March 26 - 6:30 to 9:00 PM
March 27 - 7:00 to 9:00 PM

March 31 – April 3 Kraft Nabisco Championship
Mission Hills Country Club
Rancho Mirage, CA

This is the year's first Major Championship!
Purse: $ 2,000,000 - Par 72 - 6702 Yards

Defending Champion: Yani Tseng 69-71-67-68 = 275 (-13)

TV Times: (EST) All Golf Channel (Live)
March 31 and April 1 - 12:00PM to 3:00PM and 6:30 PM to 9:30PM
April 2nd and 3rd – 4:30PM to 8:30 PM

It is certainly nice to see the well deserved extended TV coverage this is finally getting.

If you are living on the west coast this is a great opportunity to go out and see these wonderful girls play. If you have never done it, give it a shot. If you go once you will want to go again. These girls are all so fan friendly and deserve our support.

If you are not on the west coast be sure to turn on your television sets. Ratings are very instrumental in keeping this tour alive.

My hard to believe stat of the week:

Nearly 10% of the Kia Classic field (13 of 140) have either the last name of Kim (7) or Lee (6).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup Preview, Predictions, Pairings

I should be more excited about the LPGA's domestic debut, the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, which takes place this week amidst growing recognition that Golf Channel is treating the tour better in 2011, sometimes-grudging acknowledgment that the event's all-for-charity model provides RR Donnelley and the players with a unique opportunity to support Japan (as Ya Ni Tseng, Paula Creamer, Mina Harigae, and Harukyo Nomura are aiming to do), and loads of great previews from Hound Dog, Ruthless Mike, Jeff Skinner, Emily Kay, and Cameron Morfitt (not to mention Plus, yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of Annika's 59--and it took place in Phoenix, where the LPGA is finally returning to this week! Oh, and Ron Sirak is passing along rumors of a possible LPGA-PGA partnership down the road (although Ryan Ballengee is shooting them down). And, hey, former WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender will be watching the Founders Cup on tv!

Blame the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan for my emotional numbness right now. But even before it all started, many of my favorite players had already decided to give this week a pass. Still, the field features Tseng (who's going for her 2nd LPGA win of 2011 and 5th worldwide), Ji-Yai Shin and Cristie Kerr (who are trying to track her down), Karrie Webb (who's gunning for her 2nd-straight LPGA victory), Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Kristy McPherson, Vicky Hurst, Angela Stanford, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, and Juli Inkster (who are trying to win one for the home team), and more rookies than you can shake a stick at (including Jennifer Song, Hee Kyung Seo, Belen Mozo, Tiffany Joh, and Jessica Korda). So which stars do I think will burn brightest at Wildfire this week? From the hole-by-hole description and video, I'm going with the following players in this week's PakPicker competition at Seoul

1. Shin Ji-Yai
2. Tseng
3. Webb
4. Kerr
5. Yang
6. Kim Song-Hee
7. Hull
8. Creamer
9. Pressel
10. Yoo
11. Lewis
12. Song, Jennifer

Alts: Mozo, Seo, Ji

There are some pretty cool pairings for Friday's 1st round. Here are my favorites:

1st tee, 8:35 am: Song-Hee Kim, Jee Young Lee, Lindsey Wright
10th tee, 12:20 pm: Grace Park, Mariajo Uribe, Na On Min
1st tee, 12:10 pm: Morgan Pressel, Vicky Hurst, Christina Kim
1st tee, 11:50 am: Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Hee Kyung Seo
1st tee, 12:00 pm: Ya Ni Tseng, Natalie Gulbis, Amanda Blumenherst
1st tee, 12:20 pm: Paula Creamer, Amy Yang, Laura Davies
10th tee, 8:25 am: Seon Hwa Lee, Brittany Lang, Kyeong Bae
10th tee, 8:55 am: Hee-Won Han, Helen Alfredsson, Shanshan Feng
1st tee, 8:15 am: Ji-Yai Shin, Brittany Lincicome, Gwladys Nocera
10th tee, 8:35 am: Katherine Hull, Kristy McPherson, Karen Stupples

Also of particular interest to me going off the 1st tee are Laura Diaz (8:45 am), Mi Hyun Kim (8:55 am), Pornanong Phatlum (1:20 pm), and Nannette Hill (1:30 pm), while back-9ers Libby Smith (7:55 am), Moira Dunn (8:05 am), Karrie Webb (8:45 am), Azahara Munoz and Beatriz Recari (9:05 am), Sun Young Yoo and Eun-Hee Ji (12:00 pm), Meaghan Francella (12:10 pm), Mina Harigae (12:40 pm), and Tiffany Joh (1:00 pm) stand out to me.

Well, now I'm getting a bit more psyched up for this thing. Looking forward to the tv coverage Friday early evening....

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best of the Young Guns: Class of 2008, March 2011 Edition

There's no way to make a smooth transition back to normal LPGA blogging from what's going on in Japan, so I won't even try.

It's hard to believe the last time I ranked the LPGA's rookie class of 2008 was June 2010, but there you have it. In those 9 months, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in this class widened considerably. With many members of the class either retiring from professional golf, retreating to mini-tours, or devoting part or all of their schedules to the JLPGA or LET, the race for best in class may come down to as few as 3 golfers. Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi have taken their in-class rivalry to the top of the LPGA. Can Amy Yang join them this year?

Simply the Best

1. Ya Ni Tseng. Last year's Player of the Year and this year's world #1 doesn't just have a big game; she's got an even bigger heart. I'm hoping she can get her 5th worldwide win of 2011 in Phoenix, as she's playing for UNICEF's Tap Project to bring safe water to children in Japan.
2. Na Yeon Choi. Last year's money-list title-holder and Vare Trophy winner hasn't finished outside the top 16 since missing the 1st cut of her LPGA career at Locust Hills last June. Now up to #3 in the Rolex Rankings, she's likely to lose ground to Tseng, Ji-Yai Shin, and Cristie Kerr by sitting out this week's event, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her win the Kia Classic or the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

The Contenders

3. Amy Yang. Last year, she finished in the top 30 in all 4 majors, capped off by T5s 2 weeks apart in the U.S. and British Opens. With 3 additional op 5s, the last a near-win at the LPGA Tour Championship, she came very close to breaking through in 2010 for her 1st LPGA victory. I believe it's coming in 2011--and soon.
4. Momoko Ueda. She's coming off the worst season of her professional career, falling to 38th on the LPGA and 27th on the JLPGA. But even though she got off on the wrong foot in the 1st 2 LPGA events in Asia, she posted her best finish in months in the JLPGA's kickoff (and only) event of 2011, a T7, the following week. Here's hoping she's put last year's knee injury behind her and returns to action with extra resolve.
5. Hee Young Park. The medalist at last year's JLPGA Q-School hasn't impressed on either tour as of yet, but she's not known as The Rocket for nothing--she finished T60 at Lorena's event and T10 at the LPGA Tour Championship at the end of last season, where she evolved into a fantastic straight shooter but was let down by her putter. Let's see if she can have as good a year on both tours as Inbee Park did last year.
6. Shanshan Feng. At JLPGA Q-School last year, she lost a 3-shot lead over Park in the last 5 holes, but she beat her rival by 2 shots at the Daikin Orchid event a little while ago for her 1st top 20 of 2011. With Ji-Yai Shin, she's the only dual LPGA-JLPGA member to be teeing it up in Phoenix, so let's see if she can build on her momentum from her last 2 rounds of competitive golf.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Sandra Gal. She's coming off the worst season of her professional career, but did get a top 30 to kick off 2011 in Thailand. I'm looking for her to bounce back from her #69 finish in 2010.
8. Eunjung Yi. She fell off a cliff in the 2nd half of 2010, but even so, she's still got the best made-cut rate among the rest of her class and at #87 on the LPGA's priority status list will have plenty of chances to improve on it.
9. Louise Friberg. With her rookie win putting her at #88 on the priority status list, she still has time to play her way out of her long slump. As I've said before, Ai Miyazato, Brittany Lang, and Inbee Park have all slogged through their own career valleys, so there's no reason she can't, too.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

10. Anna Grzebien. After a medical exemption that leaves her around #64 on the priority status list, she's in the best position of her fellow struggling '08ers to turn things around this season. Let's see how she plays in Phoenix.
11. Taylor Leon. Last year was nothing to write home about, but at #123 on the priority status list, she has a good chance to bounce back this year.
12. Sarah Kemp. She's 5th on the ALPG money list and has good priority status on the LPGA in 2011 (#108), so is looking to finally translate her success Down Under to the big tour.
13. Jimin Jeong. She, too, fell off the cliff in the 2nd half of the 2010, but came back strong in Q-School and stands at #99 on the priority status list. Her 2011 starts in Phoenix this week, so let's see if she's over whatever caused her to play so badly.
14. Anja Monke. Just as I predicted, she made the LET her primary tour last season, where she finished 11th on their money list, but she played well enough at the Evian Masters and Ricoh Women's British Open to still be #136 on the LPGA's priority status list this season. Even so, I'm not looking for her to play much more often on this side of the ocean.
15. Nicole Hage. A top 20 at the Navistar and solid play at Q-School were the only bright spots from last season, but at #115 on the priority status list, this bomber will have many chances to create more.
16. Hannah Jun. At #158 on the priority status list, she just missed getting into the Phoenix event this week. I'm eager to see if she can translate her early-season LET success (where she's #11 on their money list) to the LPGA this season.

On the Outside, Looking In

17. Anna Rawson. She's taking a sabbatical from professional golf, but she still has better LPGA results than anyone else beneath her.
18. Carolina Llano. Looks like we'll be seeing a lot of her on the Futures Tour in 2011.
19. Ashleigh Simon. She's developed into one of the better players on the LET (#17 on their money list last season, #25 so far in this one) and has decided to focus her efforts there full-time in 2011.
20. Leah Wigger. Another Futures Tour regular in 2011.
21. Onnarin Sattayabanphot. A full-time JLPGA member for the 1st time in 2011, let's see how she does!
22. Sofie Andersson. Yet another Futures Tour regular in 2011.
23. Emma Cabrera-Bello. She's got full status on the LET, so let's see what she does with it this year.
24. Sarah Oh. She's 10th on the ALPG Order of Merit, but can't seem to ever get any status on another tour.

Missing in Action

25. Liz Janangelo. She's not listed as a member of the LPGA, LET, or Futures Tour, so her future as a professional golfer is definitely in doubt. [Update: A local paper report she's going to continue competing professionally here and there, but will primarily focus on a career as a teaching pro.]
26. Chris Brady. Ditto.
27. Amie Cochran. Ditto.
28. Violeta Retamoza. Ditto.
29. Hwanhee Lee. Ditto. Perhaps she's focusing on her fashion design career in 2011?
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff. Ditto.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the March 2011 ranking.

2011 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this young season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category (except for birdies, which ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future. Of course, because the LPGA doesn't keep performance stats for international events, and we haven't had any domestic ones yet, I've got nothing but question marks in the last column this time around. And because we've only had limited-field events thus far, the gap between the top 6 and the rest of the class is only growing.

1. Ya Ni Tseng $313.9K (#1), 68.88 (#1), 5.50 (#1), ?
2. Na Yeon Choi $71.4K (#7), 71.25 (#5), 3.38 (#11), ?
3. Amy Yang $68.9K (#9), 71.25 (#5), 3.25 (#13), ?
4. Momoko Ueda $23.2K (#31), 73.38 (#37), 2.88 (#31), ?
5. Shanshan Feng $19.3K (#35), 73.25 (#35), 3.13 (#18), ?
6. Hee Young Park $12.8K (#46), 74.63 (#52), 2.00 (#50), ?

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events started/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/withdrawals/disqualifications/missed cuts/finished events (rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the Class of 2008 hasn't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins has posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Best of All Time ranking over at Hound Dog LPGA). In any case, I include the other ways of seeing how the '08ers finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2011 Performance Chart after every event! But I have to join Hound Dog in disagreeing with their listing as a missed cut those who didn't make it to the final round of last year's LPGA Tour Championship after making the 2nd-round cut. By that logic, anyone who doesn't win the Sybase Match Play event should be given an MC, as well! [Note: *=non-member win.]

1. Ya Ni Tseng, $4.93M (#35), 75/3/6/20/34/52/0/0/3/72 (.960)
2. Na Yeon Choi, $4.38M (#41), 78/0/4/16/36/56/0/0/1/77 (.987)
3. Hee Young Park, $1.48M (#127), 77/0/0/2/16/26/0/0/16/61 (.792)
4. Amy Yang, $1.20M (#158), 54/0/0/2/10/21/0/0/6/48 (.889)
5. Momoko Ueda, $1.09M (#172), 56/0/1*/1/7/19/0/0/9/47 (.839)
6. Shanshan Feng, $897.0K (#208), 67/0/0/1/9/13/1/0/22/44 (.657)
7. Sandra Gal, $586.3K (#259), 67/0/0/0/2/14/2/0/16/49 (.731)
8. Louise Friberg, $476.6K (#283), 61/0/1/1/3/4/0/0/36/25 (.410)
9. Eunjung Yi, $469.4K (#286), 53/0/1/1/1/2/1/0/21/31 (.585)
10. Taylor Leon, $249.1K (#368), 46/0/0/0/3/6/0/0/26/20 (.435)
11. Sarah Kemp, $227.5K (#380), 50/0/0/0/1/6/0/1/24/25 (.500)
12. Anna Grzebien, $213.9K (#388), 42/0/0/0/0/5/2/0/19/21 (.500)
13. Jimin Jeong, $186.4K (#404), 43/0/0/0/2/3/1/0/20/22 (.512)
14. Anna Rawson, $166.9K (#418), 46/0/0/0/1/4/1/0/29/16 (.348)
15. Carolina Llano, $111.3K (#468), 40/0/0/0/1/1/0/0/25/15 (.375)
16. Anja Monke, $109.3K (#473), 21/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/9/12 (.571)
17. Ashleigh Simon, $72.9K (#514), 30/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/17/13 (.433)
18. Leah Wigger, $58.8K (#540), 36/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/24/12 (.333)
19. Liz Janangelo, $38.1K (#585), 35/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/24/10 (.286)
20. Hannah Jun, $32.0K (#596), 9/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/4/5 (.556)
21. Nicole Hage, $24.3K (#613), 21/0/0/0/0/1/1/0/16/4 (.190)
22. Amie Cochran, $17.2K (#643), 5/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/4/1 (.200)
23. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, $8.6K (#691), 8/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/6/2 (.250)
24. Chris Brady, $6.1K (#709), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/2 (.500)
25. Violeta Retamoza, $2.2K (#743), 19/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/17/1 (.053)
26. Emma Cabrera-Bello, $0K (n.r.), 2/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/0 (.000)
27. Sarah Oh, $0K (n.r.), 3/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/3/0 (.000)
28. Hwanhee Lee, $0K (n.r.), 5/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/5/0 (.000)
29. Sofie Andersson, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 3/14/11) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 3/13/11) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of today): This is a way of seeing how those '08ers who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Ya Ni Tseng, 11.38 (#1), 69.23 (#6); 3
2. Na Yeon Choi, 9.18 (#3), 68.94 (#3); 4
3. Amy Yang, 3.87 (#22), 69.79 (#10); 3
4. Momoko Ueda, 2.48 (#50), 71.66 (#60); 8
5. Hee Young Park, 2.39 (#54), 71.65 (#59); 4
6. Shanshan Feng, 1.80 (#74), 71.09 (#36); 0
7. Sandra Gal, 1.15 (#109); 72.67 (#112); 0
8. Eunjung Yi, .95 (#136), 74.00 (#197); 0
9. Sarah Kemp, .87 (#146), 73.52 (#144); 0
10. Ashleigh Simon, .84 (#158), 73.26 (#143); 1
11. Anja Monke, .75 (#170), 73.33 (#153); 3
12. Hannah Jun, .51 (#222), 73.20 (#128); 0
13. Taylor Leon, .50 (#225), 73.73 (#175); 0
14. Louise Friberg, .46 (#239), 73.75 (#177); 0
15. Sarah Oh, .41 (#250), 73.97 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
16. Anna Grzebien, .30 (#284), 73.94 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
17. Anna Rawson, .28 (#296), 74.91 (#258); 0
18. Jimin Jeong, .24 (#315), 74.15 (#203); 0
19. Emma Cabrera-Bello, .19 (#345), 76.53 (#364); 0
20. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, .14 (#379), 74.10 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
21. Leah Wigger, .12 (#398), 74.67 (#236); 0
22. Nicole Hage, .08 (#448), 75.49 (#307); 0
23. Carolina Llano, .02 (#654), 74.69 (#237); 0
24. Liz Janangelo, .01 (#689), 75.11 (#274); 0
25. Sofie Andersson, .00 (#721), 76.57 (#366); 0
26. Hwanhee Lee, n.r., 77.85 (#437); 0
28. Chris Brady, n.r., n.r.; 0
27. Violeta Retamoza, n.r., n.r.; 0
29. Amie Cochran, n.r., 78.52 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff, n.r., n.r.; 0