Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Best on the LPGA: 3-to-6-Time Winners, March 2013 Edition

Last June, I wondered who would be the next player to graduate from the group of 3-to-6-time winners on the LPGA to the 7-Up Club.  I had suggested that "The way Club 36 newbie Stacy Lewis is playing this year, she might have the best shot!  Even though she has the fewest wins and majors of anyone on this list, can you name anyone who's playing better golf than she is on it right now?"  Well, even though the answer to that question turned out to be "no," Na Yeon Choi beat her to the 7-Up Club with her wins at the U.S. Women's Open and the CME Titleholders in the 2nd half of 2012.  But when Lewis shot a Sunday 64 to beat Ai Miyazato at the RR Donnelley earlier this month, she added "7-Up Club Member" to her 2012 Player of the Year and Rolex "#1 in the world of women's golf" titles.  So who'll be the next to graduate from Club 36?  Read on!

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2013

1. Inbee Park (4/1): Although she broke a 19-event top-20 run in Singapore, let's pause to appreciate how great Inbee's been playing since last spring.  Including her 3 wins, she's finished in the top 5 no less than 11 times (including 6 times in a row!) and in the top 10 an amazing 13 times (including 9 in a row).  Keep in mind she had 6 2nd-place finishes last year.  So what if her best finish in her last 3 starts was T17?  She can win any event she enters.

2. In-Kyung Kim (3/0): Her playoff loss to Beatriz Recari this past Sunday had to hurt, but at least it signalled that she's ready to win again, after dealing with injuries most of 2012 (not to mention the psychological and emotional fallout of her everything-but-the-tap-in performance at last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship).  In her 20 starts since the KNC, yes, she had to WD once and missed the cut 3 times, but besides a T48 in Japan she has finished T31 or better in every start, including 5 top 10s, 10 top 20s, and 13 top 25s.  This year, she's #4 on tour in driving accuracy, #14 in birdies (averaging 4.13 per round), #16 in greens in regulation, and #21 in putts per green in regulation, so it's no surprise she's #2 in rounds under par rate and #6 in scoring average.

3. Angela Stanford (5/0): She had a great 2012, with a win in Singapore, 2 runner-up finishes, 5 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 11 top 20s.  Her MC last week was her 1st since the Evian, but cut her some slack, as she had just scored a bronze at the RR Donnelley on top of 2 top 30s to start the season solidly.  She's the kind of player who can contend any time her putter heats up.  Why not next week?

The Contenders

4. Catriona Matthew (4/1): She's off to a great start in 2013, with 2 top 10s, 3 top 20s, and 4 top 25s already!  In fact, since her T40 in Toledo, she hasn't finished outside the top 30 in her last 13 starts (and that includes a run of 5-straight top 10s and 3-straight top 5s late last season).  So don't be surprised if she starts contending soon.

5. Brittany Lincicome (5/1): It's not like she had a bad 2012, with 4 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 11 top 25s, but the problem was that her good finishes seemed so few and far between compared to other top players on tour.  This year has been more of the same thus far, with a pair of early top 20s offset by 2 missed cuts in a row heading into the site of her only major victory.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm still waiting for her to go on a real run and put herself in contention over several events in a row. For a bomber, she's usually quite accurate off the tee (although not so at all early this season), but she needs to be giving herself more and better looks at birdie to take it to the next level (3.06 per round is just not going to cut it).  And she needs to become a more consistent putter to truly join the LPGA's super-elite (she's off to a terrible start this season).  At this point in her career, I'm starting to seriously doubt whether she has the desire, the temperament, and the work ethic to do any of that.

6. Candie Kung (4/0): Her missed cut at the Kia was her 1st in her last 13 starts (dating back to last season) and broke a 2-event top-10 streak.  In fact, during that run she had 2 top 5s and 4 top 10s, which just goes to show that she's a real threat any week she gets her putter going.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Hee-Won Han (6/0): Last season wasn't anything to write home about, with no really strong finishes since Toledo.  And last week at the Kia Classic she broke a 9-event made-cut streak (dating back to last season).  But she does have 1 top 20 and 2 top 25s to her credit already in 2013 and is hitting her fair share of fairways.  If she can improve her iron play and give herself more and better birdie chances, don't put contending out of the picture for her.

8. Maria Hjorth (5/0): She's off to a slow start in 2013 and hasn't really played good golf since a surprise top 10 at the Women's British Open last year.

9. Sophie Gustafson (5/0):  She's off to a terrible start to 2013, with 2 missed cuts and a WD last week in Carlsbad.  Here's hoping she's not injured.

10. Seon Hwa Lee (4/0): Even with all her struggles the last 4 seasons (during which she's put together only 5 top 10s since the final McDonalds LPGA Championship in '09), I still believe she's just too good a golfer for the 1st slump of her LPGA career to last much longer.  At #77 on the Priority Status List thanks to a medical exemption from last season, she's got another chance to turn things around.  With a T61 at the RR Donnelley and a MC at the Kia Classic, she's clearly got a lot of work to do to make it happen.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

11. Wendy Ward (4/0): A T21 at the Navistar was just enough to secure her the #118 position on the Priority Status List, so we'll be seeing plenty of her this season.  Unfortunately, we haven't yet seen her play on the weekend, as she's missed the cut in all 3 starts thus far in 2013.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  unless she does something about her putting, her years on the LPGA are numbered.

12. Lorie Kane (4/0): At #109 on the Priority Status List, she'll get to play pretty much whenever she wants to in 2013.  Unfortunately, she's missed her 1st 3 cuts in a row and 7 of her last 9 dating back to last season.

13. Pat Hurst (6/1): When your best finish in 2012 comes from a first-round match-play loss and you don't tee it up the rest of the year after missing the cut at the U.S. Women's Open, that's a season to be forgotten.  Starting off this season with a MC at the RR Donnelley is similarly a bad sign.  Let's face it:  since her surprise 2009 win, her only top 10s have come during majors ('09 KNC, '11 Wegmans LPGA Championship).  Yes, she's #53 on this year's Priority Status List thanks to a medical exemption, but she's going to have to turn things around quickly if she wants to stay ahead of Kane on the career money list.

On the Outside, Looking In

14. Wendy Doolan (3/0): At #223 on the 2013 Priority Status List, she, too, will have a slim chance to extend her LPGA career yet further. She missed the cut in last year's season-opener in Australia, but given that it was her 1st start since May 2010, just teeing it up was a huge victory for this breast cancer survivor. She ended up missing 6 cuts in her 10 starts in 2012, and didn't tee it up in Australia this year, so the signs aren't looking great for much PT this season.

15. Dorothy Delasin (4/0): This 2000 Rookie of the Year had been struggling to keep her card since 2006 and sits at #213 on the 2013 Priority Status List. She's missed her last 7 cuts in a row dating back to October 2010--and has made only 1 cut in her 33 starts from October 2008 to the present. She's hung on longer than another former ROY, '07er Angela Park (who I heard is attempting a comeback), but I have to wonder if we have already seen Delasin's last competitive season.  She didn't tee it up at all in 2012....

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