Monday, March 25, 2013

The Best on the LPGA: 2-Time Winners, March 2013 Edition

With Beatriz Recari joining the ranks of the LPGA's 2-time winners thanks to her playoff win in Carlsbad yesterday, it's time to update my ranking from last August and offer up my latest best guesses as to who's most likely to enter "Club 36" (3-to-6-time winners on tour)!

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2013

1. Beatriz Recari: As Tony Jesselli pointed out, she already has 3 top 5s in 2013, including yesterday's gutsy win at the Kia.  Dating back to last season, she's finished in the top 25 in 12 of her last 14 starts--a T26 at the Navistar and a T35 at the RR Donnelley were her only misses in that stretch--and she had just ended a run of 9-straight top 10s with her T24 in Singapore.  So there's no reason to expect her to stop playing at this level any time soon.

2. So Yeon Ryu: In her 13 starts since she got her 2nd career LPGA win in Toledo, she's notched 6 top 5s, including most recently a 3rd-place finish in Thailand, but she hasn't added to her top-10 total of 9 in that stretch in any of her 3 other starts this season, failing in fact to break the top 25 since the Honda.  Nothing to worry about for a golfer of her caliber, but her relative inconsistency in 2013 has opened the door for Recari to pass her.

The Contenders

3. Anna NordqvistHound 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 next 2 seasons was her driving accuracy that year--she declined from hitting about 77% of her fairways as a rookie to under 70%.  It's a good sign that she's picked up this season where she left off last one, hitting over 72% of her fairways so far, but her stats on the greens show where she needs to improve, with 1.80 PPGIR and only 3.35 birdies per round.  Whereas she finished last season hot with 4 top 10s in a row, she's started this one slow, with a T12 in Australia her only top 20 of 2013 to date.

4. Sun Young Yoo: After seeming to plateau in 2011, something in the California air in 2012 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 about a foot 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 been struggling of late, with only 2 top 20s in her last 14 starts and 2 missed cuts in a row heading into her title defense.  Let's see if she can turn it around by April!

Quantum Leap Candidates

5. Stacy Prammanasudh: It's looking like little Ryp Walker has started giving his mom more practice time, as she's notched 3 top 25s in her 1st 5 starts this season and has made 7 cuts in a row dating back to last year's Safeway, with only 2 finishes outside the top 30 in that run.  It's a sign of how bad everyone below her on this list has been playing that that's been enough to move her up from #18 last ranking!

6. Katherine Hull-Kirk: She just snapped an 11-event made-cut streak this past week in Carlsbad, but she does have 2 T8s in that run, at Lorena's place and on her home soil, which means that she's playing better golf than everyone I'm ranking beneath her at the start of the 2013 season!

7. Momoko Ueda: So much for my "feeling she's very close to putting it all together outside Japan for the 1st time in her career."  The best you can say about her play of late is that she's made the cut in her last 6 starts in a row, but with only 1 top 20 in that run last fall in Taiwan and no finishes inside the top 50 in 2013, that's not saying that much.

8. Morgan Pressel: Last June, I was surprised when I talked with her in Pittsford and in Waterloo to find out just how low her confidence level was; in retrospect, I can understand why.  She couldn't turn 2012 around and has followed her her top 10 in Singapore with 2 missed cuts in a row.  She's still trying to find the form that had her among the LPGA's finest early last season.

9. Meena Lee: A T8 at last year's Navistar was her best finish in her last 10 starts and she too has missed her last two cuts in a row, so let's see if she can get things going this season.

10. Jeong Jang: It's definitely been taking her awhile to get back in the swing of things, even after coming back from maternity leave last season after taking all of 2011 off.  Here's hoping little Seul Samantha allows her mama enough practice time this season to return to the form that put her regularly in contention before wrist injuries derailed her career.  I got to follow both of them for awhile at the Wegmans LPGA Championship last June, which turned out to be JJ's best finish of the season, a T15.  Whereas she did add 3 other top 20s in the weeks after it, she finished the season with a couple of WDs and a lot of missed starts.  This season, she missed the cut at the RR Donnelley but bounced back with a T24 in Carlsbad, including a 68 in the 2nd round.  I'm thinking that's a sign of good things to come for JJ!

11. Eun-Hee Ji: She had 2 top 20s in her last 6 starts in 2012, but had started 2013 cold, with no finish inside the top 35 and a WD and MC already among her 5 starts.

12. Jimin Kang: Her T13 at the RR Donnelley was her best finish since the start of the 2012 season, when she notched a top 5 in Thailand, but she missed the cut at Carlsbad last week, so it's too soon to tell which Jimin will show up in 2013.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

13. 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, although she did get 2 top 20s in the middle of last season.  Between injuries and bad golf, she's been missing more cuts than she's made, yet still hanging onto her card.  She got her 1st top 60 of the season yesterday, but at least has made the cut in 2 of her 3 2013 starts.  Let's see if she can get it going this year!

14. Michelle Wie: She made the cut in her last 5 events of 2012, but has already missed 3 in her 1st 5 2013 starts.  I can't blame her putting, as she's ranked in the top 50 on tour in both putting stats.

15. Karen Stupples: A top 10 at the Lotte in mid-April was her best finish last season, and she's already missed the cut in 2 of her 3 starts of 2013, with her best finish still outside the top 60, so she's clearly got some adjusting to do to her now-slimmed-down body.  Still, I think there are plenty of reasons for optimism for this veteran and mother of 2.

16. Ji Young Oh: My doubts from 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...."--have been right on target the last few years.  Her T43 yesterday was her best finish since a T42 at Kingsmill last season.

17. Christina Kim: The good news is, she's made the cut in her last 4 starts.  The bad news is, she hasn't improved on her T55 at Kingsmill that started the streak.

18. 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 2012, she found every aspect of the game difficult and is now hanging onto her card by the tips of her fingers, at #129 on the Priority Status List. About the only good thing you can say about her 2013 is she made her 1st cut of the season at the Kia; the bad news is that she finished 73rd.

On the Outside, Looking In

19. Carin Koch: She notched 56 LPGA 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 #23 on their money list--but she's just not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.

20. Gloria Park: She's still playing full-time at home in Korea.

21. 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 7 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game.  With a small boy and a toddler to corral, she's slipped to #231 on the Priority List.


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

This is a change. Usually I am commenting on the fact that you are not rating Beatriz high enough.
This time I have to say, it's tough to argue with any of your rankings, but if I had to make one switch....I think Ryu is still more dangerous on a week in and week out basis.

The Constructivist said...

I think you're right in the medium-to-long-term, Tony, but it's hard to argue with Recari's hot streak right now!

Jim C said...

I question putting Pressel so much higher than Wie. Pressel had a better overall year in 2012, but it was Pressel who really struggled the last half of the year.

This year both are struggling. Wie is 91st in scoring average and Pressel is 92nd.

The Constructivist said...

Jim, I hear you. But Pressel did get a top 10 already this year. So she's got that going for her.