With Ya Ni Tseng getting LPGA win #13 to kick off the tour's new season in Thailand, it's time to update my July 2011 ranking of the active 7-Up Club members, arranged as usual by their likelihood of winning this season.
Before I unveil the new list, I have to mention again that it's totally pitiful that the career bio pages I'm linking to here don't actually cover the entire careers of the veterans and are still fairly error-prone (though much-improved) for the last few seasons. They're mostly accurate when it comes to career wins and majors (I list the correct figures below in parentheses after each player's name), but they're hit-and-miss when it comes to things like top 10s--check the players' individual performance charts for more accurate figures.
Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012
1. Ya Ni Tseng (13/5): She won so many times last season I gave up even updating her wins/majors totals! And the way she won last week was amazing: from a solid start on Thursday to 3 bogeys in her last 5 holes that left her in tears of frustration at the end of the day, to a great comeback on Friday (and Saturday morning), capped off by a walkoff eagle that kicked off a 28-hole run that ended as she finished the front 9 on Sunday in which she was -14 and bogey-free, to a 7-hole stretch down the home stretch where she had difficulty saving pars or getting birdie putts to fall, to back-to-back birdies to close out the tournament with a 1-shot win over Ai Miyazato that left her with tears of relief and happiness. This one had it all. [Update 1 (3/26/12, 6:22 am): Whoops, Ya Ni's alread up to 15 wins! Will she get major #6 this week? Let's see!]
2. Ai Miyazato (7/0): For her to come so close to winning in Thailand when her iron play was so bad on Friday and when she made so many mistakes over her 1st 12 holes on Sunday has to be a huge confidence boost heading into 2012. Could I have been a year early in my prediction at the start of the 2011 season?
3. Ji-Yai Shin (8/1): Her new swing looked a lot smoother in Thailand than it did all last season and her distance control and putting were much improved, as well. I'd say she's getting really close to putting it all together.
4. Cristie Kerr (14/2): 2011 was her 1st season without a win since 2003. I don't see that happening again for a long time. So far, she's been steady but not brilliant in 2012. Maybe the prospect of getting caught by Tseng in wins will give her some extra motivation in the coming weeks!
5. Suzann Pettersen (8/1): Even though she's as physically fit in 2012 as I've ever seen her, her game has been all over the place--from very very good to horrid--in both her starts, as have her mood and focus. I think she just needs some more starts to back into game shape on emotional, mental, and psychological levels.
6. Karrie Webb (38/7): During her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43). In her 16-plus-year LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, only once had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (once when her scoring average rose above 71.50 for only the 3rd time in her career), and only 3 times failed to enter the winner's circle (in 2 of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd; for the other, it was 4th). She's coming off a 2-win 2011, but seeing as she got both of them around this time last year, and seeing how badly she dropped out of contention last Sunday, I'd say she'll be coming in to Singapore to defend her title with a real chip on her shoulder. She's definitely got the game to get past 40 career wins and 10 career majors and although she still has plenty of time, given how well her game has held up thus far, there's no time like the present to put together another year like 2006.
7. Paula Creamer (9/1): Right now I think the world rankings overrate her just a bit, and she hasn't gotten off to a great start in 2012 (except for that 1-hop hole-in-one on Thursday in Thailand!), but she's too good to be kept out of the winner's circle or million-dollar club another year.
8. Se Ri Pak (25/5): From 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all. She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!). She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch. She hasn't been nearly that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became a 5-time winner of the Farr in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. She's shown flashes of brilliance already this year, but her best chance to pad her victory total in 2012 will most likely be at the Farr!
Quantum Leap Candidates
9. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and lately it's been motherhood for my fave among the old-school Seoul Sisters. She was a regular on the top 10 for her 1st 9 seasons on tour, but the last few have been struggles, at least on the course. She's still young enough to bounce back, though. She got back to making cuts with regularity last year. Can she take another step forward this year?
On the Bottom, Looking Up
10. Laura Davies (20/4): Those last 2 points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame must be weighing on her, as she's been winning everywhere but the LPGA in recent years, but is off to a terrible start in 2012. Given her international record and commitment to growing the game around the world, there's no doubt she'll be voted into every golf HOF on the planet once she decides to retire, but given how competitive she is I'm sure she'd love to win 1 more major and do it herself! The odds are decreasing each year, and they haven't been good in a while, but they're better than getting 2 non-major LPGA wins and I wouldn't put anything past her over 72 holes!
11. Helen Alfredsson (7/1): Her scoring average in 2009 was her 4th-lowest ever, even better than some from 1992-1995, when she was a fixture on the top 20 of the LPGA money list. But she's played a limited schedule ever since, and--with no made cuts in her last 6 starts dating back to the 2010 WBO and no starts at all since the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship--has been calling more shots than she's been taking lately. I really enjoyed listening to her on Golf Channel midway through 2011 and on LET events at the end of last season and start of this one, but I'd love even more to see her playing great golf again. At #82 on the Priority Status List, it looks like she'll get plenty of chances in 2012. This is probably her last shot, so enjoy it while it lasts!
On the Outside, Looking In
12. Juli Inkster (31/7): After recent elbow surgery, she's hoping to come back sometime this summer. Here's hoping we haven't seen the last of her on the LPGA!
13. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She hasn't completed an event in her last 19 starts dating back to 2008 (and only 3 made cuts in her other 13 starts that season), so although she's in Category 19 and #175 on the latest Priority Status List, I'm not looking for her to return to competitive golf, at least on the LPGA.
14. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She called it quits on a great LPGA career at the 2011 Canadian Women's Open, in honor of her 1st LPGA win, which also took place in Canada. Best of luck to her in everything she chooses to do! This is the last time I'll include her in this ranking....