The last time I tried to predict who was most likely to win among the LPGA's 3-to-6-time winners was last July. As part of my 2014 preview series, here are my best guesses for the new season!
[Note: The numbers in parentheses following each player's name represent LPGA wins and majors.]
Most Likely to Win in 2014
1. Shanshan Feng (3/1): With 2 wins in her last 4 LPGA starts of 2013 and a 5-event (and counting) streak inside the top 11, she's 1 of the hottest golfers on the planet, not to mention the only dual LPGA-JLPGA member in 2014. She's decided to start 2014 in Thailand, but I don't think that'll put a damper on her chances for 2014, where I expect her to contend for all end-of-season honors on the LPGA if she can keep her starts on the JLPGA to a minimum. She's ranked #3 in her class and #6 in her generation and rising fast in both lists, but catching Na Yeon Choi and Ya Ni Tseng is one tall order. If anyone can do it, she can!
2. Lexi Thompson (3/0): She's won twice in her last 5 LPGA starts and has finished inside the top 22 in 10 of her last 12 starts, so she's almost as hot as Feng. And she's ready to strike while the iron is hot, having signed up for the LPGA's 1st 4 events. If #1 in their Class of 2012 So Yeon Ryu doesn't get it in gear, Lexi could blow by her in 2014 (and a lot of other people)!
3. Beatriz Recari (3/0): As great as she was in the 1st half of 2013, the 2nd half was a little bit of a letdown, as she started missing cuts (3 times), finishing outside the top 30 (twice more), and even having to withdraw from Lorena's event. And yet she still got a win, 4 other top 10s, and 5 other top 20s in that very same run. The key for her was a red-hot putter and a killer instinct down the stretch. If she can maintain both in 2014, she's going to have an even better season than last one. As the #1 golfer in her LPGA rookie class and #8 in her generation, it'll be interesting to see which ranking is a better indicator of where she's headed on tour. We'll get some early clues, as it should come as a surprise to no one that she'll be playing all 4 of the LPGA's season-opening events.
4. In-Kyung Kim (3/0): She was hottest in the middle of the 2013 season, when she racked up 7 top-6 finishes in a 14-event run. But she couldn't find win #4, as Inbee Park continued to blow by her in the Class of 2007 rankings and Shanshan Feng made up a lot of ground on her in the Tseng Dynasty rankings. All she needs to do, though, is put it all together in a given week. Each of her performance stats last year were among the very best on tour and I see no reason for that to change in 2014. The only reason she's not ranked with the top 3 in this group is that they're all on great runs while she's trying to start one. The only thing is, she's not entered in any of the 1st 4 LPGA events of 2014. I hope she's not hurt!
5. Angela Stanford (5/0): She was considering a North-America-only schedule in 2013, but started playing great golf, with an early bronze at the Founders Cup and another top 5 at Kingsmill, so she did everything but the fall Asian swing in the 2nd half of the season and responded with a 9-event run inside the top 21 to close out her season, highlighted by a T4 at the U.S. Women's Open, a T6 at the Evian Championship, and a near-win at the Manulife. So she's going all in for the start of 2014, with starts in the Bahamas, Thailand, and Singapore.
The Next Best
6. Catriona Matthew (4/1): She had a great 1st 3/4 of 2013 and hung on for a bunch of top 30s at the end of the year when she didn't have her A-game. She's skipping the Bahamas and the LET's opening New Zealand and Australia events but playing the next 3 LPGA events over in the eastern hemisphere. Don't be surprised if she's ready to win in February!
7. Brittany Lincicome (5/1): 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. 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. In 2013, she had 3 top 20s in the 1st half of the season and 3 top 10s in its 2nd half. She could do that sleepwalking through 2014. When will she wake up?
Quantum Leap Candidates
8. Seon Hwa Lee (4/0): After a terrible 2013, she needed to go to Q-School, but she showed she still has it with a 6th-place finish. So it's clean slate time for 2014. Wonder what she'll fill it with? Her only early-season start is in the Bahamas next week.
9. Candie Kung (4/0): I wonder if she's gotten to the point in her 13th season on tour when the most we can expect from her is top 30s and the occasional better finish. The culprit in 2013 was clearly her putting. If she can get that back on track, we'll see her do better than break the $6M mark in career winnings on the LPGA. But contend? Let's hope! She's playing in the 1st 4 LPGA events of 2014, so we'll find out soon.
10. Hee-Won Han (6/0): Gotta ask the same question about this 14th-year LPGAer. She's not signed up for any of the LPGA's 1st 4 events, either.
11. Maria Hjorth (5/0): She kept her LPGA card only because of Category 5 (multiple wins between 2010 and 2013) on the 2014 LPGA Priority Status List, so let's see if she can take advantage of that and catch or pass her fellow '98er Sophie Gustafson (the 2 of them have been neck and neck their entire careers). Her best finish of 2013 (T30) was her last one, so let's see what she's got in the Bahamas.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
12. Pat Hurst (6/1): She used up her Category 14 exemption for being in the top 40 on the career money list, so still has a chance to become a $7M woman on the LPGA.
13. Lorie Kane (4/0): At #154 on the priority status list she should get plenty of starts this season, which is good, because she's racing Hurst to the $7M mark in career winnings.
On the Outside, Looking In
14. Sophie Gustafson (5/0): At #209 on the priority status list, she's in Category 18-land for retired players. Never fear, Gustafson fans: you can find her on the LET in 2014!
15. Wendy Ward (4/0): She got a sponsor's exemption into the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic and at #210 on the priority status list she probably won't get too many others.