Steve DiMeglio got Dottie Pepper's take on which Americans have the best chance to win the U.S. Women's Open this week. Putting aside well-known but not-mentioned players like Juli Inkster (just coming back from long layoff due to elbow surgery), Michelle Wie (mega-slump), Christina Kim (humongo-slump), Pat Hurst (slump), and Wendy Ward (mini-slump), here are some more American hopefuls to keep an eye on this week (in alphabetical order):
Amanda Blumenherst (#145 Rolex Rankings): Has made the cut in 4 of 6 USWOs she's played, with her best finish a T10 in 2006 when she tied Jane Park for low amateur. However, has missed her last 2 cuts in a row at the USWO and last 4 cuts in a row on the LPGA, so even though she has a history of hitting a good number of greens in regulation on USWO courses, I'd put her as an extreme long shot this week.
Nicole Castrale (#242 RR): She's coming back from her 2nd major shoulder injury and has made the cut in 4 of 6 USWOs, with her best finishes coming in her last 2, a T6 in 2008 and a T17 in 2009. She got a top 20 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, so she can handle tough set-ups, but she missed the cut last week in NW Arkansas, so she's another extreme long shot at Blackwolf Run.
Katie Futcher (#63 RR): She's made the cut in 2 of 3 USWOs she's played, is the highest-ranked American golfer after Michelle Wie, and is coming off a top 20 at the Walmart last week, but her 2 worst non-missed cut finishes this year have come at majors and she doesn't have very good stats on USWO layouts, so I'd call her a long shot this week.
Natalie Gulbis (#88 RR): She's made the cut in 8 of 10 USWOs, with her best finish a T4 in 2005 and 3 top 20s, the last one coming in 2010. However, she's been in a bit of a rut lately, with 2 missed cuts in a row before finishing T55 at the Walmart, which has put a damper on a fantastic start to her season. It's really a question of which Natalie shows up this week. Let's call her a long shot.
Mina Harigae (#79 RR): She's made the cut in 3 of her 5 USWO starts and hasn't yet cracked the top 30. Even though she's missed the cut in 2 of her last 4 LPGA starts, she's having a very solid overall season, is coming off a T15 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and already has 5 top 25s in 2012, so I'd call her a very long shot this week.
Vicky Hurst (#68 RR): She's made the cut in her last 2 USWO starts after missing it in her 1st 2 but has never gone under par on a USWO course. After a surprising 4th-place finish at the Sybase Match Play Championship, she's missed 3 of her last 4 cuts, so I'd call her a very long shot at Blackwolf Run.
Tiffany Joh (#115 RR): She's a 2-time Women's Amateur Public Links winner, so even though she missed the cut in her only USWO start (in 2010) and just broke a 3-event missed-cut run on the LPGA with a top 45 in Rogers, Arkansas, let's call her a very long shot this week.
Jennifer Johnson (#92 RR): She's having a very solid season, with a run of 3 straight top 20s broken by a T31 at the Manulife, plus she's got 2 top 45s in her 2 USWO starts the last 2 years. She's a long shot, for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her name high on the leaderboard for a good amount of time at Blackwolf Run.
Danielle Kang (#254 RR): Her 2 U.S. Women's Amateur wins haven't carried over to USWO success, as she's finished outside the top 60 twice in a row after missing the cut as an amateur in 2007. She's gone MC-MC-T31-T23 in her last 4 LPGA starts, but if she can get her putter going this week, I think she's a long shot who could become a real dark horse. Having talked with her in Rochester and Waterloo, I can tell you she doesn't lack for confidence and she's been improving each week in this 1st run of consecutive events in her professional career.
Jessica Korda (#81 RR): She's got a good USWO record, with 3 cuts made in her 4 starts (T19 in 2008, T26 in 2009, and T34 in 2011), so don't count her out, although I'd call her a very long shot this week, given that her best finish since her surprise win to open the season is a T17 at the Sybase Match Play Championship.
Cindy LaCrosse (#182 RR): She made the cut in 2009 and missed it in 2011 in her only 2 USWO starts, but she's coming off the 2nd-best finish of the season (exceeded only by her near-top-25 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship), so let's call her a very long shot at Blackwolf Run.
Paige Mackenzie (#183 RR): She's made the cut in 2 of her 3 USWO starts, with her best finish a T13 in 2005. However, she's missed 2 of her last 4 cuts on the LPGA and hasn't cracked the top 40 in an official start this year, so I'm calling her an extreme long shot this week.
Mo Martin (#209 RR): Although she's qualified only for 1 USWO (a MC in 2007), she's been playing very well lately, with 3 top 30s in her last 4 starts, including a T14 in NW Arkansas. Although she's a long shot, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see her name pretty high on the leaderboard for a good amount of time at Blackwolf Run. She's been exceeding expectations all year, so why not this week?
Kristy McPherson (#143 RR): She's made the cut in 2 of her 4 USWO starts, with her best finish a top 20 in 2010. Although her performance stats on USWO setups are pretty impressive and she opened the season with 4 straight solid starts, her T31 at Waterloo was her only made cut in her last 8 LPGA starts, so I'd call her an extreme long shot this week.
Ryann O'Toole (#130 RR): Last year's USWO was a career-changer, as she contended almost the entire week and finished in the top 10 in a real coming-out party. In 2012, though, she's had an up-and-down season, with some flashes of brilliance and some really bad let-downs. Let's see if she can stay focused the entire week. I'm calling her a sleeper this week.
Gerina Piller (#120 RR): This is her 1st USWO and 1st major since having a chance to win the Wegmans LPGA Championship until an untimely disaster on her 71st hole knocked her back to 6th place. I'm calling her a very long shot this week.
Lizette Salas (#206 RR): She also had a great USWO last year, hanging near the top of the leaderboard all week and finishing T15. Although she missed the cut in her 1st USWO in 2010, she's made it in 7 of her 8 LPGA starts this season, with a top 25 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. So I'm calling her a long shot with dark horse potential at Blackwolf Run.
Jennifer Song (#147 RR): She's made the cut in 3 of her 5 USWO starts, with her best finish a T13 in 2009. Although she's missed the cut in 2 of her last 3 LPGA starts, she has a top 10 at the RR Donnelley and a top 20 at the Manulife, so she's showing signs of getting her professional career off the ground. I'm calling her a very long shot this week, but wouldn't be surprised to see her name pretty high up the leaderboard for a good amount of time this week.