With Momoko Ueda and Sun Young Yoo joining the ranks of the LPGA's 2-time winners and Stacy Lewis joining and leaving them in the blink of an eye, it's about time I updated my July 2011 ranking and offer up my latest best guesses as to who's most likely to join Lewis in moving on to "Club 36" (3-to-6-time winners on tour)!
Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012
1. Sun Young Yoo: After seeming to plateau last year, something in the California air this year must have agreed with the Class of 2006's top late bloomer. After a not-even-close runner-up finish at the Kia to Ya Ni Tseng, she took advantage of In-Kyung Kim's heartbreaking final-hole miss from 9 inches and beat her with a birdie in a playoff at the Kraft Nabisco Championship for the 2nd win and 1st major of her career. A straight shooter in the Cristie Kerr/Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang mold, she's doing everything well this year but getting the ball in the hole--if she can improve her 1.83 putts per green in regulation rate, she'll start averaging even more than 3.52 birdies per round and become a more regular visitor to the top of the leaderboard.
2. Morgan Pressel: Until the Sybase, she was on the upswing from a very flat start to 2012 and a huge falloff from her 2011 season, when she was regularly making top 20s and top 10s and had 2 top 3s in majors. Her driving had been the culprit, as one of the most accurate players on tour in a typical year was hitting the fairway off the tee only 65% of the time early in the season. But now, even after her heartbreaking slow play penalty in the semi-finals of the Sybase stopped her positive momentum and threatened to make New Jersey her Waterloo (her hangover carried over to the ShopRite, where she barely made the cut and only came alive in the final round), she's improved her driving accuracy to 71% and seems poised to regain her form at a course she was the 2nd-best player on last year.
3. Anna Nordqvist: Hound Dog claims her rookie season in 2009 was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall. What really distinguished it from her last 2 seasons was her driving accuracy that year--she declined from hitting about 77% of her fairways as a rookie to under 70% of late. It's a good sign that she's hitting 73% of her fairways so far this season, but her stats on the greens show where she needs to improve, with 1.83 PPGIR and only 3.14 birdies per round. If she can heat up her putter, her slow-but-steady start to 2012 should take right off.
4. Eun-Hee Ji: Like Inbee Park, it's taken her awhile to overcome the U.S. Women's Open jinx, but her performance stats this season are excellent and her top 10 at Seaview was no fluke. It was actually her 6th top 20 of the season. She could be a real surprise at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
5. Katherine Hull: For someone who plays most of the winter at home in Australia, she had a very slow start to the LPGA's 2012 season, with a lone top 20 at the KNC to give some hope, but she seemed to find something in NJ and is starting to improve some very average performance stats.
6. Meena Lee: She's been driving for show this year on the LPGA, hitting almost 80% of her fairways, but she couldn't capitalize on her exceptional play in Hawaii and her putter has cooled off of late.
7. Momoko Ueda: Except for her greens in regulation rate (62%), her performance stats are actually pretty darn good this season, as she's driving for a good combination of distance and accuracy and putting well enough to be averaging 1.79 PPGIR and 3.33 birdies per round. So is she due to break through somewhere, anywhere, outside Japan? Time will tell!
Quantum Leap Candidates
8. Michelle Wie: OK, she's off to a nightmarish start to 2012. I blame finals at Stanford. Feel free to throw rotten fruits and vegetables at me in comments for putting her odds of winning over the course of the season higher than the rest of the 2-time winners!
9. Jimin Kang: She got a T5 early in the season but hasn't done much of anything since she had to withdraw from the Kia Classic. She didn't look hurt when I caught a few glimpses of her yesterday, but looks can be deceiving. A MC at a Seaview course that's supposed to play to her strengths is a very bad sing. Here's hoping her return to Rochester means the return of her A-game.
10. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 20 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then. Between injuries and bad golf, she's been missing more cuts than she's made, yet still hanging onto her card. With her ball-striking stats quite impressive (averaging 252 yards off the tee while hitting 82% of her fairways and 75% of her greens in regulation) in her 2 starts this season, let's see how she handles Locust Hill this week.
11. Karen Stupples: She shot the round of the week on Sunday at last year's Wegmans LPGA Championship, a fantastic 65 on a day the pins were tucked and the players I watched were having trouble sinking their birdie putts, so you know she can go low. But for a fairly accurate bomber, she's had very inconsistent results over the last few seasons, proving that toddlers and little kids (her son Logan was 5 at the start of the season) can be tougher on your golf game than infants and babies!
12. Jeong Jang: It's probably going to take her awhile to get back in the swing of things, now that she's back from maternity leave after taking all of 2011 off. Let's see if infant Seul Samantha allows her mama enough practice time to return to the form that put her regularly in contention before wrist injuries derailed her career.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
13. Christina Kim: She's improved her driving accuracy (78%) but lost a lot of distance, and her iron play and putting are letting her down in a big way, so it's no wonder she's in the worst slump of her career.
14. Stacy Prammanasudh: She, too, is stuck in the worst slump of her career, but maybe baby Ryp Walker will start giving her more practice time!
15. Ji Young Oh: It's looking more and more like my doubts in February 2010--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list...."--were right on target. She had a disastrous 2011 and even though she's straightened out her driver in 2012 and is starting to make cuts again, almost nothing else in her game is very dependable right now. Not a good recipe for success at Locust Hill.
16. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 5 of her 44 career top 10s in the last 6 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game. With a kindergartner and an infant, both boys, to corral, it's no wonder her putter has been suffering this season.
17. Laura Diaz: She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter a couple of years ago has proven quite difficult. From 2009 to 2011, she found every aspect of the game difficult and is now hanging onto her card by the tips of her fingers, at #132 on the Priority Status List thanks to a 1-time career top 40 exemption. A 66 on Saturday at Seaview made up for an opening 79 and assured her of her 1st made cut of 2012, but she'll need a lot more in that vein to turn this season around and keep her competitive career alive.
On the Outside, Looking In
18. Carin Koch: She notched 56 top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But she moved back to Sweden in 2009 and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events per season ever since. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET and is currently #9 on their money list--but she's not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.
19. Gloria Park: She's still playing full-time at home in Korea.