Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2013
1. Amy Yang: I'm still in shock that she would ever have considered quitting professional golf, as she revealed after she won the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship yesterday. She was already ranked in the top 25 of the top players to join the tour between 2005 and 2013 and with her win she's now #18. Technically, she's right behind Mika Miyazato, but even though Mikan recently won the Japan Women's Open, she hasn't had a very good LPGA season, so I'm bringing in Amy at #1 on this list.
2. Mika Miyazato: She started 2013 with a frosty putter and even though it's been slowly heating up over the course of the season, she hasn't really done much besides snag a couple of top 5s in the middle of the year--not counting her gutsy JWO win, that is. Still, given how strong her career record has been, you have to think she's bound to start playing really well really soon.
3. Jessica Korda: She's had a really good 2013, turning herself into a player you're no longer surprised to see high on the leaderboard. But she's finding out how hard it can be to win on the LPGA.
4. Azahara Munoz: She's another player who made a quantum leap recently and has found out how hard it is to meet the raised expectations that come with that status.
5. Hee Kyung Seo: She won as a non-member at the 2010 Kia Classic, easily won the 2011 Rookie of the Year race despite her failure to secure her 1st LPGA major at the U.S. Women's Open (where she lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu), and came this close to graduating from this list when Yang beat her with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 1st playoff hole yesterday, but she now has 4 playoff losses on the LPGA and only 10 other top 10s in almost 3 full seasons, so the chances are coming few and far between and she hasn't been able to close the deal as an LPGA member. She's got the talent to do it. It's only a question of when.
6. Sandra Gal: She's now finished in the top 25 in 5 consecutive LPGA starts. I'd say not making the European Solheim Cup team has woken her up!
7. Brittany Lang: She's another player who started 2013 on the wrong side of the bed and has been waking up in the 2nd half of the season.
Quantum Leap Candidates
8. Natalie Gulbis: Recurring back problems since her 2007 Evian Masters playoff victory over Jeong Jang have dropped her back where she was in her 1st 3 seasons on the LPGA--a player who makes her share of cuts but has trouble cracking the top 10. In fact, 24 of her top 10s and all 7 of her top 3s came between 2005 and 2007, when she was a regular on the top 20 of the money list. She had 3 top 10s in 2012 but has only had 1 so far in 2013. She says she's healthy, so I'm keeping her tops among the quantum leap candidates....
9. Jee Young Lee: It looks to me like the once-elite '06er got hurt in fall 2010 but whatever the reason she's been in free fall until this season, which hasn't been very good by her usual standards but at least includes a top-5 finish for the 1st time in a long time and inclusion on the fall Asian swing.
10. Mi Jung Hur: Her struggles since getting her 1st LPGA win as a rookie in 2009 are by no means over. The best that can be said for her is that at #87 on the money list, she's going to keep her card for 2014.
11. Nicole Castrale: She had shoulder surgery in 2010 and hip surgery in September 2013, but expects to be back in February 2014 for the kickoff of the new LPGA season. Despite her injury issues and limited schedule this season, she's #53 on the money list, so don't count her out when she returns to action!
12. Jennifer Johnson: She's had 2 top 10s and 4 top 20s since her surprise win in Mobile this season, but she's also missed a bunch of cuts and raised hackles among the tour's movers and shakers when she went to twitter to question the decision to leave her off the U.S. Solheim Cup team. I like that kind of guts and self-confidence, myself. Let's see if she can back that up with her clubs in the run-up to the next Solheim Cup team selection.
13. Julieta Granada: She's back to being a regular on the LPGA after spending a lot of time on the LET in recent years, but has gone cold since notching back-to-back top 10s in the middle of the season.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
14. Meaghan Francella: She shocked the golf world with a win over Annika Sorenstam on the 4th playoff hole at the 2007 MasterCard Classic, but Annika's announcement a little later that season that she had been suffering significant back and neck injuries for some time put a little asterisk by that victory. And her performance ever since hasn't been all that impressive (perhaps due to injury issues of her own). But things went from mediocre to worse in 2013, where she played in 14 events and won less than $10K. If she can't do well in Q-School in December, she'll have to decide whether to retire or try to come back on the Symetra Tour.
15. Moira Dunn: Her 2004 win at the Giant Eagle Classic was the high point of an LPGA career that dates back to 1995, but her best season was probably in 2001. My junior golf buddy's been struggling to keep her card each year since the 2006 season, and once again in 2012 and 2013 she has failed to add to her 23 career LPGA top 10s. But this season she's #90 on the money list and assured of keeping her 2014 card, so never count her out!
16. Silvia Cavalleri: She's only had 10 top 10s in an career that started back in 1999 and in that span has only cracked the top 50 on the money list once--in 2007, when she won the Corona Championship. This year, she's #137 on the money list, so it'll be interesting to see if she tees it up in LPGA or LET Q-School, or perhaps calls it a career..
On the Outside, Looking In
17. Shi Hyun Ahn: Like Jee Young Lee, her only LPGA win comes with an asterisk, as she got it as a KLPGA member in 2003, but since then she's played roughly 20 events on the LPGA each year, garnering 27 top 10s in the process, with only 3 of them coming since the end of the 2007 season. Until 2011, that is, when she fell off a cliff. It may have been injuries, but probably it was love. The golfer known as "Cinderella" got married to Argentine-Korean star Mario in November 2011. What that means for her golf career remains to be seen, but she didn't tee it up on the LPGA in 2012 or 2013.
18. Soo-Yun Kang: Her win at the Safeway Classic in 2005 was part of the best season of her career, where she got 6 top 10s and ended up #14 on the money list. But it was also the last season her stroke average dipped under 72. Of her 17 career top 10s since she started on the LPGA in 2001, only 2 have come after 2005. Now she's playing full-time on the JLPGA, where she just got her 1st win in her 3rd full season on tour.
19. Young Kim: She joined the JLPGA in 2010 and ended up ranked 14th on tour in my system; the next 2 seasons, she's finished in the mid-30s on the season-ending money lists and currently sits at #38.
20. Jin Joo Hong: After playing 3 seasons on the KLPGA, she won the jointly-sponsored event with the LPGA and switched tours for the next 3 seasons, ending 2009 ranked #10 among the '06ers. Since then, she's decided to focus on the KLPGA.
21. Joo Mi Kim: She came to the LPGA in 2005 with 3 KLPGA victories under her belt and made a lot of cuts in her rookie season, then followed it up with a playoff win at the SBS Open (over Lorena Ochoa and Soo Young Moon) and 4 top 10s in all the next season, where she ended up 27th on the money list. She stayed in the top 50 for the 3rd-straight season the following year, but saw her starts go down and her scoring average go up over the next 3 seasons. Since the fall of 2010, she's been focusing her efforts on the KLPGA.
22. Eunjung Yi: Her playoff victory over Morgan Pressel at the Farr in 2009 remains her only LPGA top 10 since her LPGA career began in 2008. She won Hound Dog's fluke victory of the year award that year, a dubious distinction. She's barely played on the LPGA in 2012 and 2013 due to injuries, but hasn't made a cut in either season.
23. Birdie Kim: For awhile, it seemed like she had been coming back from the U.S. Women's Open jinx after her stunning 2005 win from the sand over then-amateurs Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang, not to mention the serious injuries she sustained in a car accident years ago. But her 2012 Symetra Tour and Q-School performance earned her only 2 LPGA starts in 2013, both missed cuts, and she ended up #41 on the 2013 Symetra Tour money list and didn't tee it up in Stage II of LPGA Q-School. I'm assuming that's because she's exempt into Stage III in December....