The last time I tried to predict who was most likely to win among those with 3 to 6 LPGA victories was back in January. Obviously a lot has happened since then, most notably that 3 of the biggest names in the world of women's golf have shown some serious signs of being ready to realize their promise. The way Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, and Lydia Ko have won this year has gotten everyone's hopes up, including mine, as you can see below.
[Note: The numbers in parentheses following each player's name represent LPGA wins and majors.]
Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2014
1. Lydia Ko (3/0): She started the 2014 season with 3 top 10s in her 1st 5 starts (all top 20s), including a bronze and a silver, but 1 bad start and 2 ok ones lowered expectations heading into last week. The rest is history. Just kidding--she's got a lot of history still to make! The difference last week was her putting. If she can keep adjusting to new greens quickly, there's no reason she can't keep contending. I think she has the most complete game of anyone on this list, and that's saying a lot!
2. Lexi Thompson (4/1): She won twice in her last 5 LPGA starts of 2013 and finished inside the top 22 in 10 of her last 12 starts last season. So it's no surprise that she picked up right where she left off after a couple of hiccups to start 2014. She's got 3 top 5s in her last 5 starts and no finish outside the top 30, but to tell you the truth I was surprised that she was able to get a major victory so early in her career. Last time, I wrote, "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)!" It's starting to look like that "could" should be a "will"!
3. Michelle Wie (3/0): She's doing it her way and has a 13-event top-25 streak to show for it, including 7 top 10s--with a gold, silver, and bronze among them. Look for her to keep collecting medals, as her confidence and maturity are at all-time highs and she's got the game to match them.
4. Shanshan Feng (3/1): With 2 wins in her last 4 LPGA starts of 2013 and a 5-event streak inside the top 11, she was one of the hottest golfers on the planet coming into this season, but she's just started to recover from a late and a slow start to 2014. Now that she's got her golf legs under her again, she's riding a 4-event top-20 streak and has 2 top 10s, including a T4 last week, under her belt. 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, but she has to strike while the iron is hot, particularly while NYC and Ya Ni are struggling.
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. She went all in at the start of 2014 and has 5 top 25s to her credit, including 2 top 5s (one of them another near-win). Forget those 2 missed cuts in the midst of that run: she's definitely playing elite golf over the last year. But she's vying with Stacy Lewis for the title of Close Call Kid. Here's hoping she can focus on the former and keep putting herself in contention.
6. 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. After a very late start to 2014, she finally got her 1st top 20 of the season last week. Let's hope that's the start of better things to come for one of my favorite players on tour.
The Next Best
7. Catriona Matthew (4/1): Last time, I wrote, "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!" She came close in her 2nd start of the season, but hasn't since. Still, she's made the cut in her last 6 starts and has 2 more top-21 finishes under her belt. Never count this veteran out!
8. Beatriz Recari (3/0): Last time, I wrote, "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." Unfortunately, the early part of 2014 has been an absolute disaster for her, with 3 MC, 1 WD, and no finish in the top 25. Let's hope she turns it around soon!
Quantum Leap Candidates
9. 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. Unfortunately, she's doing something worse thus far this season.
10. 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, where so far she's made 4 of 5 cuts but hasn't done much to impress.
11. Candie Kung (4/0): Last time, I wrote, "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!" Unfortunately, she has only 1 top 25 in her 1st 8 starts and no other finish better than 36th. Still, she's missed only 1 cut, so I'm not counting her out just yet.
12. Hee-Won Han (6/0): Gotta ask the same question about this 14th-year LPGAer. She started 2014 late and got a top-15 finish right off the bat, but hasn't impressed since then.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
13. Maria McBride (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 she still has a chance to 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, but she missed her 1st 5 cuts of 2014 and couldn't crack the top 70 last week, so she's got a ways to go to find her game again.
14. 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. Missing her 1st 6 cuts in a row in 2014 is not the way to do that, however.
15. 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. She's got 1 top 30 so far in 2014, but only has 3 starts thus far.
On the Outside, Looking In
16. Sophie Gustafson (5/0): At #209 on the priority status list, she's in Category 18-land for retired players. Too bad she's already missed the cut twice in LPGA starts this season. Never fear, Gustafson fans: you can find her full-time on the LET!
17. Wendy Ward (4/0): At #210 on the priority status list, it was nice that she got a sponsor exemption into the 1st tournament of the season, but she probably won't get into many others.