OK, so everyone who hasn't been living in a men's-only cave in 2013 knows that all eyes will be on Inbee Park at the start of the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack, and that Stacy Lewis will (rightly) be billed as the Great American Hope. But who else is likely to contend on the weekend? Here's my list:
1) Suzann Pettersen: She's nabbed a win, a silver, 3 bronzes (2 of them coming in the LPGA's 1st 2 majors), and a T7 in her last 8 starts, her last 4 rounds have been 65-67-70-67, she leads the tour in greens in regulation, and she's both driving for show and putting for dough, so what's not to like about Team Euro's Solheim Cup leader this week? If she's anywhere near the lead heading into Sunday, watch out for her, as she's been scorching just about every course she's played in her closing rounds, including 6 rounds in the 60s in her last 7 Sundays (the only bad one in that stretch came in the water-logged Bahamas).
2) Na Yeon Choi: If it can be said that a defending champion is ever coming into an Open under the radar, NYC enters Long Island air space pretty close to the deck. Since her runner-up finish in Singapore, she's added 3 further top 10s to bring her total to 5--and 7 other top 20s to bring her total to 9--so it's not like she's had a bad 2013. In fact, given that her performance stats have been much more impressive than her finishes, I'd say she's due to snap up win #8 sometime very soon. That final-round 66 in NW Arkansas makes me think she's ready to do it this week.
3) So Yeon Ryu: She's a former Open champion (in a memorable playoff win over fellow KLPGA star Hee Kyung Seo) who's comfortable in contention: her playoff loss to Inbee Park last week was her 2nd silver of 2013 (her other also came to Inbee at the Kraft Nabisco Championship), plus she also has a bronze, a T4, and an 8th-place finish to her name this year. Yes, she only has 1 other top 20, missed the cut at Locust Hill in the last LPGA major, and isn't coming in with as hot a putter as some of the others on this list, but make no mistake: she's the real deal.
4) Ji-Yai Shin: If she can step up her iron and hybrid play at Sebonack, watch out for her this week. She's the most accurate off the tee of anyone on tour, she'd be the top putter on the LPGA this year if Inbee weren't completely unconscious and Lewis out of her mind on the greens, she followed her 11th career LPGA victory in the season-opener Down Under with 7 other top 20s, and 2 of her 3 top 10s this season have come in majors. It's about time she breaks 70 again on a Sunday--the last time she did it, she did it in style, with a 63 at Mobile Bay, capping off a run of 4 in her last 6 Sundays--so if the Final-Round Queen rides again in a few days, the rest of the field had better beware.
5) Karrie Webb: The Hall of Famer would love to make LPGA win #40 a major and get her 3rd U.S. Women's Open and 8th major at Sebonack. Surprisingly, I'd have to say her iron game has been lagging behind the rest of her play this season, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if she stepped it up this week and put herself in position to win.
6) Beatriz Recari: She's not quite as hot as she was at the start of the season, when she had 3 top 5s in her 1st 5 starts (including her 2nd career win on the LPGA), but she comes to Sebonack on a 4-event top 20 run and gave herself a chance to win last week.
7) Ai Miyazato: The hands-down "Best Without a Major on the LPGA" has put together some great performances in 2013--an opening 63 at the RR Donnelley, a 3rd-round 66 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 2nd-round 64 last Saturday in NW Arkansas--but she hasn't put it all together for 72 (or even 54 holes) as of yet, with her only 2 top 10s coming early in the season. But she's added 4 top 20s in a row coming into Sebonack, and with 9 LPGA wins and 15 JLPGA wins under her belt, including 2 JLPGA majors, she doesn't need to be on a super tear to contend this week. With her ball-striking and putting both improving of late, this could turn out to be the major that doesn't get away.
8) Paula Creamer: She's another golfer with impressive performance stats who's been racking up top 20s (10 of 'em and counting) in 2013 but struggling to find the top 10 (only 3 thus far, including a T7 last week). The culprit has been her putter, but given that she won the Open at Oakmont, it's clear she's capable of excelling on the toughest greens the USGA can throw at the LPGA. Win #10 has been a long time coming, and her steady performance last week (3 straight 68s) calms my worries about seeing her left wrist taped on Sunday at Locust Hill.
9) In-Kyung Kim: With 4 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 7 top 20s already this season, she's done everything but win. She's putting up Ji-Yai Shin-like performance stats and is playing like Suzann Pettersen over her last 4 rounds (69-70-64-69), so it's about time she contended again in a major.
10) Shanshan Feng: With 5 top 10s and a 6-event-and-counting top-20 streak going coming into Sebonack, all she needs to do is roll the rock like she's capable of to make her 2nd LPGA victory her 2nd LPGA major.
11) Anna Nordqvist: With 4 top 10s and 7 top 20s in 2013 (including a streak that ended at 5 last week in an uncharacteristically ho-hum week), very good performance stats underlying those finishes, a major victory already under her belt and a T7 and T12 in her last 2 starts in majors--not to mention a season-low 61 on moving day at Mobile Bay to prime the memory banks--Nordqvist is poised to remind everyone what's she's capable of.
12) Cristie Kerr: I'd put her higher on this list if she hadn't WDed last week: she has 2 other top 5s to go with her Kingsmill win that put her 1 ahead of Ya Ni Tseng, she has 4 other top 20s (which makes it 5 in a row--if we don't count NW Arkansas, of course), she's putting like herself again, and she's got a game built for Opens.
13) Mika Miyazato: Never mind her overall performance stats, just note that she's been near the top of the leaderboard in her last 4 starts and has radically improved her putting in particular, so much so that she's been at par or better in her last 6 rounds and has broken 70 twice in her last 3 starts. Don't forget that she's won a major on the JLPGA and is accustomed to contending in LPGA majors.
14) Chie Arimura: Another golfer with a lot of JLPGA wins to her name (13), including a major last season, she's finally started getting over rookie jitters in the past month on the LPGA and started getting the ball in the hole much more quickly. If she can put together good starts like she has in her last 2 events with a scorching weekend like she did in Mobile Bay, she can make her 1st LPGA victory a major.
The Hottest of the Rest: Moriya Jutanugarn, Caroline Hedwall, Morgan Pressel, Jenny Shin, Julieta Granada, Ayako Uehara
Not Hot But Could Heat Up Quickly: Lizette Salas, Jessica Korda, Guilia Sergas, Angela Stanford, Hee Kyung Seo, Haeji Kang, Hee Young Park, Chella Choi, Carlota Ciganda, Ilhee Lee, Pornanong Phatlum
Non-LPGAers Who Could Make Some Noise: Lydia Ko, Annie Park, Miki Saiki, Carly Booth, Doris Chen, Kyung Kim