All right, it's time to update my last round of predictions as to who will break through for her 1st career LPGA major, this time at the Wegmans LPGA Championship being played this Thursday through Sunday (weather permitting). As always, 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 Survive Locust Hill
1. Ai Miyazato (9/17): I've said it before and I'll say it again: she's due. She's got a very good history at Locust Hill and has been on the verge of playing great golf again. Could this be her week?
2. Mika Miyazato (1/1): She already has 9 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including 3 top 10s in a row in 2011 (a T7 at the KNC, a T8 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 5th-place finish at the USWO) and another 3 in a row last year (T2 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, T7 at the USWO, and 4th at the WBO). 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--and she finally broke through for her 1st LPGA win last season in the midst of her major run. Only problem is she basically shut it down early late last season, playing only 3 events after the WBO, and started off 2013 on a limited schedule, as well, with very unimpressive results for someone of her talents. Has she been she injured? sick? burned out? Or did she just need a break? I didn't get to talk to her on Tuesday to find out, but I will after her morning round today. Whatever the cause, she's contended in the last 2 events she's played and seems to always play Locust Hill well. So I'm moving her way up this list!
3. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): Here's what I wrote on the eve of her near-miss at last 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." Even after all her injuries and heartaches over the remainder of last season, she's come back strong in 2013 with another playoff loss at the Kia and 4 other top 10s, including a T5 last week on the Jersey Shore. We know she's playing well enough to win; what we'll find out this week is what shape her psyche's in. At #2 among the LPGA's Club 36, I would love to see her break through this week!
4. Beatriz Recari (2/1): Yes, she beat IK at the Kia, and she's been playing great golf for quite some time now, but her record at the majors isn't as strong (to say the least) as most of the top players on this list. Still, it would be criminal to rank her lower than this, and you could probably make a case for putting her higher, given how accurate off the tee she is.
5. 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 19 more top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds), a T3 and T11 in the 2 KNCs before this year's (where she fuinished T19), and a 4th-place finish at the 2011 USWO (where she was the 3rd-round leader). She's another one of those "any given week" golfers whose game is custom-made for majors--so why not this one, particularly since I believe course conditions will favor a straight shooter like Stanford?
Quantum Leap Candidates
6. Chie Arimura (0/13): She added a close call at last week's ShopRite LPGA Classic to her 2 other best finishes on the LPGA, a near-win at the 2011 HSBC Women's Champions, which always features a major-quality field, and a top 10 at the KNC that same year (her 2nd in a row there at the time). Looks to me like her game is also rounding into shape at just the right time.
7. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11): It took her awhile last year, but she finally got over the disappointment of giving up a late-Sunday lead at the KNC and got used to being near the top of the leaderboard again in the 2nd half of the season. This season, she has 2 top 10s and 6 top 25s, so could very well kick it up a notch this week.
8. Karine Icher (0/5): She had a great 2012 and despite a slow start in 2013, she hasn't finished outside the top 30 in her last 6 starts. She only has 1 top 10 at Locust Hill, way back in 2006, but already has 2 top 10s this season.
9. Guilia Sergas (0/0): She's playing very well in 2013 and is coming off her only top 10 at Locust Hill last year.
10. Moriya Jutanugarn (0/0): Little sister Ariya beat her to the winner's circle at the start of their professional careers, so can Moriya continue to outpace Chie Arimura in the Rookie of the Year race with a good finish at Locust Hill? I wouldn't put it past her, but I'm less confident for her than I was at the KNC. A win? Might be asking for too much too soon, especially given the troubles she's had after getting herself into contention this year. Wonder if Ariya will be on the bag for her big sister, given that she had to WD with a shoulder injury sustained during a fall in Monday's practice round....
11. Azahara Munoz (1/1): Despite missing her 1st cut in an LPGA major as an LPGA member at last year's Wegmans LPGA Championship, she played some great golf in the 2nd half of the season. 2013 has been less impressive and has included a missed cut at the KNC, but she's showed flashes of brilliance and has put in more solid starts than bad ones, so maybe she can jumpstart her season this week.
12. Jessica Korda (1/1): Yeah, she doesn't have a great record in majors and hasn't won on U.S. soil as a professional, but she's been playing really well in 2013 and is very accurate off the tee for a bomber, so who says she can't win this week?
13. Chella Choi (0/0): She's coming off a T10 at last year's WBO and a T32 at this year's KNC and already has 2 top 10s and 5 top 20s this season. She doesn't have a super-strong record at the majors, but she has tasted what it feels like to contend on the LPGA and has made steady improvements every year she's a pro, so maybe she's ready to take it to the next level this season.
14. Haeji Kang (0/0): She's quietly becoming a non-surprise leaderboard presence and is coming off a top 10 at the Kia, a T5 in this year's KNC, and a T15 in last year's KNC. She hasn't played well in her last 4 starts, but don't count this dark horse out!
15. Amy Yang (0/4): I still believe in what I saw from her in person in 2011 at Locust Hill: she has a great game for majors, she's capable of going toe-to-toe with Ya Ni Tseng (or Stacy Lewis, for that matter), and she's way overdue for her 1st LPGA win. She came really close at last year's U.S. Women's Open, falling short to Na Yeon Choi's weekend heroics (and some good bounces!), and was in the mix in last year's KNC, but the problem is that she skipped the last 2 LPGA events and finished T72 on a Mobile Bay course that should have suited her game to a T, so I suspect she's injured. Maybe she's recovered already?
16. Lexi Thompson (1/1): Sure, she hasn't yet followed up on her top 10 at the 2010 USWO in another LPGA major, 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, even though it hasn't all been good in terms of results. Still, she showed off some big improvements last year, with 2 top 20s and 4 top 30s in majors, and already has several solid finishes in 2013, plus she's almost as accurate off the tee as Korda.
Most wins/longest careers without a major: Hee-Won Han (6), Sophie Gustafson (5), Maria Hjorth (5)
Slumping stars in field: Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Seon Hwa Lee, Momoko Ueda
Rising stars: Carlota Ciganda, Caroline Hedwall, Pornanong Phatlum, Ilhee Lee, Lizette Salas, Gerina Piller, Jennifer Johnson, Mo Martin, Danielle Kang, Jenny Shin
Possible non-LPGA winners: Lydia Ko, Melissa Reid