Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship Edition

All right, it's time to update my predictions for who will break through in 2012 and snag their 1st career LPGA major. The numbers in parentheses following the players' names are for LPGA wins and international wins (but only from the other major tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Break through at the Wegmans LPGA Championship

1. Ai Miyazato (8/17): She's playing great in 2012 and even after 2 missed cuts in majors last year and another bad showing at the KNC, I'm still thinking she's due.

2. Na Yeon Choi (5/5): Last year, she suffered her 3rd-ever missed cut in a major at the USWO (to go with her MCs at the '07 USWO and '10 Wegmans LPGA Championship), slogged through her worst 2 non-MC major finishes right before that (T49 at the KNC and T43 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship). But she bounced back with a T7 at Carnoustie and hasn't looked back ever since.  I'm thinking playing with Ai-sama in a Tuesday practice round at Locust Hill will turn around her luck at a course that should suit her game.

3. Azahara Munoz (1/1): She's never missed a cut in an LPGA major since joining the tour in 2010, she's playing the best golf of her career, and her favorite major appears to be the Wegmans LPGA Championship, so keep an eye on her this week!

4. Amy Yang (0/4): She's riding an 8-major top-20 streak and is coming off a 4th-place finish at Carnoustie and at the KNC. I saw firsthand at the 2011 Wegmans LPGA Championship that she has a great game for majors, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her put herself in contention this time around, but she'll need a career week on and around the greens to do so.

5. Mika Miyazato (0/1): She already has 6 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including 3 top 10s in a row last year (a T7 at the KNC, a T8 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 5th-place finish at the USWO). Plus, she's already won a JLPGA major, getting revenge at the '10 Japan Women's Open for her final-round collapse in the '09 edition.  Finally, she's weathered a severe but short mini-slump and is back to playing good golf just in time for Locust Hill, which really suits her game.

6. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): Here's what I wrote on the eve of her near-miss at this year's KNC:  "Talk about due: she hadn't finished worse than 12th in her last 6 majors until coming to Carnoustie, where she had her worst finish in her last 14 majors besides an exceptionally windy KNC in 2010. Even with an uneven start to 2012, I have to rank someone with 11 top 20s in that stretch of majors, one who's had plenty of shots at the winner's circle, among the most likely to get there this week."  So, yeah, she's just as due as ever and if her wrists can handle the Locust Hill rough, she is very likely to contend again this week.

The Contenders

7. Katherine Hull (2/1): Gotta go with the hot golfer!  Sure, her top 20 at this year's KNC was her best finish in a major since her runner-up to Ya Ni Tseng at the 2010 Women's British Open, and she has only 1 other top 10 in majors in her career, but I have a gut feeling about this golfer this week.

8. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11): She turned a good rookie season very good at the Broadmoor, where she lost in a playoff to KLPGA rival and friend So Yeon Ryu (who's now an LPGA rookie and one of the favorites this week in yet another LPGA major). Seo was right in the mix on Sunday at the KNC, so combined with her chances to win earlier in the season, she has the experience to get right back in contention at Locust Hill.

9. Shanshan Feng (0/5): Yes, her previous best performances in LPGA majors (a T30 at last year's WBO, a T42 at last year's USWO, a T48 at the '09 USWO, a T50 and a T54 at the last two Wegmans LPGA Championships, and a T55 at last year's KNC) haven't been all that impressive. But she's a classic straight shooter who hits a lot of greens in regulation, has good touch on the greens, and is coming off an LET win, a top 25 at the KNC, and a JLPGA victory. I think she's ready to win.

10. Angela Stanford (5/0): Her best chance to win a major to date was back in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, Stanford's had 16 more top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds), a T3 at last year's KNC, and a 4th-place finish at last year's USWO. She proved she can win on a big stage in Singapore this year, so if her short game cooperates this week, she can be dangerous.

11. Lexi Thompson (1/1): Sure, she hasn't yet followed up on her top 10 at the 2010 USWO, but cut her some slack, will ya?   She's another one with the talent to contend any time and a surprising amount of experience in majors for someone so young.  And she's coming off a top 25 at the KNC back when she wasn't even playing really well.  Now that she's starting to get her game in gear, her combination of distance and accuracy can be scary at Locust Hill if she can ramp up her short game.

12. Brittany Lang (0/0): She's finished inside the top 40 in 10 of her last 16 majors (the only real blemishes being missed cuts at the '08 WBO and the '11 Wegmans LPGA Championship). More important, she finally improved on her T2 finish (with fellow then-amateur Morgan Pressel) in the 2005 USWO that Birdie Kim won with a walkoff slam dunk from the sand when she gutted out a runner-up finish at Carnoustie last year. Although she hasn't played great yet in 2012, she's definitely back among the LPGA's best.

Quantum Leap Candidates

13. Natalie Gulbis (1/1): Don't laugh!  She's playing really well this season!  And Locust Hill suits her game!

14. Meena Lee (2/4): If she can reignite her putter, she has the perfect game for Locust Hill and has already contended this year in Hawaii.

15. Momoko Ueda (2/9): The WBO seems to be her best major and the Mizuno Classic her favorite LPGA event, but she's capable of landing flocks of birdies and eagles seemingly at any time and her performance stats are the best they've been in years.  Why not make her 1st win outside Japan take place in Rochester, where Ayako Okamoto won and in the same tournament that Hisako Higuchi won?  How big a deal would it be for her to beat the Miyazatos to the punch?

16. Karine Icher (0/6): Beware the hot golfer with a baby girl.  Can Icher become the Catriona Matthew of 2012?  She certainly found something in Alabama and hasn't looked back since.

17. Hee-Won Han (6/2): Her son Dale was 4 at the start of the year, so if she returned to the winner's circle this week it might be even more impressive to win with a pre-Ker than to pull a Catriona!

18. Jenny Shin (0/0): She's got the driving accuracy, the great results this year, and the experience of being in contention to be a real dark horse this week in Pittsford.

Watch Lists

Most wins/longest careers without a major: Mi Hyun Kim (8), Sophie Gustafson (5), Maria Hjorth (5), Lorie Kane (4), Wendy Ward (4), Candie Kung (4)

Slumping stars: Michelle Wie, Song-Hee Kim, Seon Hwa Lee, Jee Young Lee, Christina Kim, Hee Young Park

Rising stars: Jessica Korda, Caroline Hedwall, Beatriz Recari, Mina Harigae, Jennifer Johnson

Possible non-LPGA winners: Melissa Reid, Cheyenne Woods


The Florida Masochist said...

Han's son Dale is not 3 years old but 4 at the beginning of this year. In fact I believe he turns five this month or in early July. Han sat out most of 2007.2

Also the medical definition of a toddler is 12 to 36 months. Dale is not a toddler.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, Bill, shows what I get for trusting an LPGA handout!