Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up, June 2012 Edition

With the 1st round of the LPGA's 2nd major of 2012 just hours away, it's time to update my February 2012 ranking of the active 7-Up Club members, arranged as usual by their likelihood of winning (again) this season.  It's striking how much injuries have thinned the ranks of this club when it comes to actually teeing it up on tour this season.  Looks like there will be that many more opportunities for Club 36ers to join them, as a result!

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012

1. Ya Ni Tseng (15/5): As great as she's been already this year, her driving accuracy is way down (61% so far in 2012 compared to 69% in 2011), which may be eating at her confidence and causing her to press just a little.  I'm not expecting great things from her at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, but maybe she'll get it back on track off the tee this week.

2. Ai Miyazato (8/0): Could I have been a year early in my prediction at the start of the 2011 season?  She's no longer the clear #2 golfer of 2012, but all that could change with a win at Locust Hill!  The key?  Improving on her 67% greens in regulation rate.  She's putting too well not to give herself more birdie chances.

3. Suzann Pettersen (8/1): Even though she's as physically fit in 2012 as I've ever seen her, her game started out all over the place--from very very good to horrid--over the early part of the season, although her mood and focus have steadily improved.  She's only gotten stronger as the season has gone on, though, and seems fully back into game shape on emotional, mental, and psychological levels.  Now it's just a question of heating her putter up.

4. Cristie Kerr (14/2): 2011 was her 1st season without a win since 2003, although she extended her million-dollar-season run to 8-straight years.  But so far in 2012, her usually brilliant putting has been hit-and-miss, and so have her results.  Until she starts rolling the ball like she's capable of, her play will remain inconsistent. 1.83 putts per green in regulation and 3.06 birdies per round will not get her where she wants to be.

5. Paula Creamer (9/1): Even though I think the world rankings continue to overrate her just a bit, and she hasn't gotten off to a great start in 2012 (her 1-hop hole-in-one on Thursday in Thailand was the highlight of her year until she got a top 10 at Seaview), I know she's too good to be kept out of the winner's circle or million-dollar club another year.  Golf Channel commentators have been harping on her putting holding her back, and they're right.  1.84 PPGIR and 3.00 birdies per round are not the kind of stats that will get her where she wants to be.

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 early last year and she's been kind of hanging around ever since, it's an open question whether she's due to get hot (she's been driving the ball fantastically in 2012) or whether her cold putter (1.87 PPGIR and 3.03 birdies per round) will keep sabotaging her confidence, mood, and results.  She's won twice at Locust Hill, so nobody should but a 3rd title out of her reach....

The Contenders

7. Ji-Yai Shin (8/1): Just as it looked like things were coming together for the former world #1, she's sidelined for at least a month following surgery on her hand.

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 was off to a very solid start in 2012 until she seriously injured her shoulder in a fall.  Surprisingly, she's listed in tomorrow's pairings, which is way ahead of her rehab schedule, but who can blame her desire to return to the course quickly in a year where the U.S. Women's Open is held at the site of her 1998 victory and the LPGA returns to her favorite course for 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?  Only time will tell, as she hasn't teed it up yet on the LPGA.  I wonder why?

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!  And, remember, she won in Rochester in 2001 when she was in the midst of a slump.  Plus, she nearly won in a playoff on the LET recently!  Who knows when lightning will strike with Laura?

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!  Weird that she hasn't taken any, though....

On the Outside, Looking In

12. Juli Inkster (31/7): After winter 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 #176 on the latest Priority Status List, I'm not looking for her to return to competitive golf, at least on the LPGA.  This is probably the last time I'll include her in this ranking.

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