Friday, November 28, 2008

The Best of the LPGA: December 2008 Edition

This is it, my final Best of the LPGA ranking of 2008. As always, my system combines the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30.

Identifying the world #1 is still a no-brainer...but this may be the last time I'll be able to write that for a while.

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($2.76M), #1 RR (16.91), #1 GSPI (68.25), #1 HD. She won her 3rd straight Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy, closed the season with 7 wins, and was 1st in every major statistical category. But next year is going to be the biggest challenge of her career. Knowing her, I expect she'll be ready.

The lead chase pack is still closing on Ochoa and, if I were to count Ji-Yai Shin's non-member wins and winnings (she'd be my #3), still growing:

2. Paula Creamer: #2 money ($1.82M), #4 RR (8.50), #3 GSPI (69.16), #2 HD. She couldn't get that 5th win she was shooting for, but her literally gutsy performance at the ADT Championship shows why she's still Ochoa's closest competitor.
3. Annika Sorenstam: #4 money ($1.74M), #3 RR (9.67), #5 GSPI (69.39), #4 HD. I think she'll get worldwide win #90 in Dubai, but she'll have to settle for 72 on the LPGA.
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #3 money ($1.75M), #2 RR (9.77), #8 GSPI (69.83), #5 HD. The best rookie year since Creamer's in 2005 is good enough to keep her #4 in my book. But with Ji-Yai Shin taking Sorenstam's place in my pre-season predictions for 2009, the Rookie of the Year can't rest on her laurels! She could learn from Shin and Seon Hwa Lee about closing the deal when she's in contention.
5. Suzann Pettersen: #7 money ($1.18M), #5 RR (8.1), #4 GSPI (69.26), #7 HD. I didn't think she'd have such a good season as this one turned out to be. Imagine how great it would have been if she could have added an LPGA win to her 2 LET ones.
6. Cristie Kerr: #10 money ($1.11M), #7 RR (6.26), #6 GSPI (69.47), #6 HD. 5 straight million-dollar seasons are nothing to sneeze at, but she's definitely the #2 American. And unlike Creamer, I'm not sure she has what it takes to end Ochoa's reign.

Right behind the lead chase pack are a bunch of great players with at least 2 top 10s:

7. Angela Stanford: #9 money ($1.13M), #9 RR (5.53), #12 GSPI (70.26), #8 HD. What a great finish to her season! But does she have the staying power to remain a top 10 player, or will she go back to being a very good and very streaky golfer?
8. Seon Hwa Lee: #6 money ($1.19M), #11 RR (4.87), #15 GSPI (70.51), #9 HD. Had a great chance to pick up her 3rd win of the season at the ADT, but 1 swing on the 17th ruined her chances. Look for her to do better in 2009.
9. Na Yeon Choi: #11 money ($1.10M), #28 RR (3.53), #9 GSPI (69.92), #10 HD. Although she couldn't steal the ROY from Tseng despite having some great opportunities down the stretch, she joined her in breaking the million-dollar barrier in season winnings--the 1st time 2 rookies have ever done that. And to think she started the season non-exempt!
10. Karrie Webb: #18 money ($854.6K), #10 RR (5.28), #10 GSPI (70.05), #15 HD. Couldn't repeat at the ADT her come-from-behind victory over Ji-Yai Shin in their 1st event of the season in Australia, but gave it everything she had. When she's on, she's still one of the world's best.
11. Helen Alfredsson: #5 money ($1.43M), #8 RR (5.97), #54 GSPI (71.64), #14 HD. Her amazing year should earn her Comeback Player of the Year--if there's any justice in the world.

But the rest of the chase pack has fallen even further behind and can be found in the top 10 in only 1 of the 4 systems and/or in the top 20 in all:

12. Jeong Jang: #12 money ($1.08M), #13 RR (4.56), #7 GSPI (69.75), #12 HD. Can't rest that wrist just yet--the Lexus Cup and the Pinx Cup are calling.
13. Inbee Park: #8 money ($1.14M), #21 RR (3.82), #34 GSPI (71.09), #11 HD. Needs the winter break to refocus as much as for the rest, but she, too, will be doing the international team competition thing 1st.
14. Eun-Hee Ji: #15 money ($914.0K), #17 RR (4.28), #14 GSPI (70.43), #13 HD. Salvaged a disappointing end to the season with a good ADT Championship in which she was the last Super Soph standing.
15. Hee-Won Han: #19 money ($826.7K), #18 RR (4.15), #13 GSPI (70.34), #16 HD. She had a good season but not a great one, but when you consider that her infant son was separated from her for most of it, you'll understand what a sacrifice being the top mom on tour actually was. Look for an even better '09 from her.

Surprisingly, there are only 4 players with top 20s in at least 2 of the 4 systems.

16. Karen Stupples: #23 money ($726.4K), #20 RR (3.84), #11 GSPI (70.17), #19 HD. Made a great stretch run to attempt to take the top mom spot from Han, but came just short.
17. Song-Hee Kim: #14 money ($980.9K), #36 RR (2.90), #20 GSPI (70.64), #18 HD. Had the best stats of all the Super Sophs this season; only a disappointing hme stretch kept her from breaking the million-dollar barrier in '08.
18. Jee Young Lee: #21 money ($796.0K), #15 RR (4.38), #16 GSPI (70.52), #22 HD. Nice finish to a tough year bodes well for 2009, but, man, what a disappointing season overall.
19. Candie Kung: #16 money ($876.2K), #26 RR (3.60), #24 GSPI (70.78), #17 HD. It was great to see this former top 5 player come closer to realizing her potential this season. Would love to see her keep it up in '09.
20. Laura Diaz: #20 money ($809.5K), #23 RR (3.77), #17 GSPI (70.52), #24 HD. Hats off to the top NYer in the LPGA! Whenever you thought she couldn't sustain her great play, she'd come up with another good finish.

Which means there are a lot of players with 1 top 20 or at least 3 top 30s:

21. Angela Park: #17 money ($869.9K), #22 RR (3.81), #27 GSPI (70.90), #25 HD. The top-ranked Super Soph came so close to breaking through this year, but always fell back after each comeback. Wait till next year!
22. In-Kyung Kim: #22 money ($774.0K), #25 RR (3.61), #28 GSPI (70.90), #20 HD. Finally got back to where I thought she would have been all season--among the hottest golfers on the LPGA. Look out for her in '09.
23. Katherine Hull: #13 money ($1.05M), #30 RR (3.37), #35 GSPI (71.15), #21 HD. Another player who got super-hot during the 2nd half of the season, but is it just a nice run, or can she sustain her fantastic play and keep moving up the rankings?
24. Maria Hjorth: #31 money ($588.4K), #16 RR (4.34), #21 GSPI (70.69), #28 HD. We'll see how quickly she can regain her top 30 status when she returns to the LPGA as the newest mom on tour!
25. Morgan Pressel: #24 money ($711.3K), #19 RR (4.12), #48 GSPI (71.40), #27 HD. Not a bad year for someone reengineering her swing during it. She should be ready for '09.
26. Juli Inkster: #38 money ($441.5K), #24 RR (3.62), #18 GSPI (70.58), #32 HD. Will she play as limited a schedule in '09 as she did this season? It seemed to work for her this time around, but I'd love to see her around more next year.
27. Mi Hyun Kim: #40 money ($438.6K), #29 RR (3.48), #22 GSPI (70.74), #29 HD. We'll have to see how a wedding and a well-deserved rest in the off-season helps her recover from last off-season's knee surgery. I think she'll be back tougher than ever.
28. Momoko Ueda: #45 money ($413.6K), #14 RR (4.41), #26 GSPI (70.81), #35 HD. Going for her 3rd JLPGA win of '08 this week in their last major. If she even finishes well, she'll have made more money on a limited JLPGA schedule than on the LPGA this season. Wonder if she'll continue her globe-trotting in '09 or commit to a full LPGA schedule?
29. Christina Kim: #27 money ($678.6K), #38 RR (2.78), #30 GSPI (70.98), #26 HD. Nice job to make it to the ADT, even if she stumbled her way in, most likely due to her marathon schedule at the end of the season. No rest for the weary--she's playing in the Lexus Cup this week. And with Solheim Cup membership at stake next season, watch out for her in '09!
30. Ji Young Oh: #26 money ($680.2K), #55 RR (2.00), #29 GSPI (70.94), #23 HD. This Super Soph was the biggest surprise of '08 in her class. But I think she's for real.

A handful of players have 1 top 30 or at least 3 top 40s:

31. Brittany Lang: #30 money ($630.3K), #46 RR (2.54), #31 GSPI (70.99), #31 HD. Had one of the best end runs of the year, but it just wasn't enough to get her into the ADT. Look for her to get her 1st LPGA win in '09.
32. Sun Young Yoo: #25 money ($699.0K), #56 RR (1.99), #36 GSPI (71.15), #33 HD. Made it to the ADT despite sitting out the Mizuno. I think she's made a quantum leap and will be a top 30 threat for years to come.
33. Jane Park: #29 money ($631.4K), #47 RR (2.40), #32 GSPI (71.02), #34 HD. Still isn't close to realizing her potential, but she's getting closer.
34. Sophie Gustafson: #28 money ($646.3K), #33 RR (3.15), #55 GSPI (71.65), #37 HD. Not the same player after losing that huge lead on a fateful Sunday midway through the season, but still can bring it any given week.
35. Teresa Lu: #34 money ($507.6K), #62 RR (1.89), #37 GSPI (71.15), #40 HD. Another Junior Mint who seems to have made a quantum leap.
36. Stacy Prammanasudh: #37 money ($470.6K), #34 RR (2.94), #44 GSPI (71.30), #36 HD. Salvaged a respectable season, but didn't play close to her talent level in '08. With Solheim Cup membership at stake next season, look for her to come back strong.

There's a bigger group with at least 1 top 40 or at least 3 top 50s:

37. Meena Lee: #32 money ($553.1K), #58 RR (1.96), #42 GSPI (71.19), #38 HD. Made a nice little push at the end of the season.
38. Nicole Castrale: #33 money ($540.6K), #32 RR (3.19), #49 GSPI (71.47), #41 HD. I have to admit she's better than I thought. Let's see how she does at the Lexus Cup.
39. Lindsey Wright: #42 money ($424.9K), #51 RR (2.15), #33 GSPI (71.08), #39 HD. Tailed off in the 2nd half of the season, but still one of the best Aussies on tour.
40. Catriona Matthew: #41 money ($433.7K), #35 RR (2.91), #39 GSPI (71.21), #42 HD. This mom's relatively disappointing 2nd season back since giving birth does not bode well for other new moms.
41. Ai Miyazato: #46 money ($410.8K), #37 RR (2.88), #46 GSPI (71.33), #49 HD. She didn't get that win I was predicting for her in the 2nd half of the season, but she's fully recovered from last year's injury and should be moving up these rankings in '09.
42. Hee Young Park: #35 money ($474.4K), #57 RR (1.97), #47 GSPI (71.35), #43 HD. Pretty successful rookie season for a KLPGA star who's wanted to play in the States for some time. Look for her to be one of the top Super Sophs next season.
43. Leta Lindley: #39 money ($439.2K), #81 RR (1.39), #74 GSPI (72.01), #46 HD. Great comeback season for her. Hope she can keep it going in '09.
44. Se Ri Pak: #52 money ($366.1K), #31 RR (3.33), #93 GSPI (72.48), #63 HD. An inexplicably terrible season by her standards still saw her contend more than once. So don't count her out for '09.
45. Shanshan Feng: #36 money ($472.8K), #49 RR (2.18), #106 GSPI (72.69), #55 HD. A fantastic 2nd half of the season elevated her among the game's elite. Hope she can avoid a sophomore jinx in '09!
46. Natalie Gulbis: #56 money ($266.2K), #39 RR (2.75), #79 GSPI (72.12), #56 HD. MIA for most of the 2nd half of the season, she has to do something about her back if she wants a comeback in '09.

And here are the best of the rest:

47. Giulia Sergas: #43 money ($417.6K), #69 RR (1.63), #51 GSPI (71.54), #48 HD.
48. Kristy McPherson: #47 money ($407.2K), #73 RR (1.50), #63 GSPI (71.79), #45 HD.
49. Shi Hyun Ahn: #55 money ($303.1K), #43 RR (2.64), #64 GSPI (71.83), #47 HD.
50. Minea Blomqvist: #44 money ($417.0K), #67 RR (1.70), #62 GSPI (71.78), #51 HD.
51. Jimin Kang: #51 money ($373.4K), #80 RR (1.40), #53 GSPI (71.63), #50 HD.

[Update 1 (12/4/08, 3:44 pm): Hound Dog profiles his top 5, next 5, and 3rd 5.]

[Update 2 (12/6/08, 5:14 am): Here's HD's 4th 5 player profiles.]

[Update 3 (12/9/08, 6:31 pm): Here's HD's 5th 5.]

[Update 4 (12/11/08, 7:09 pm): Here's HD's 6th 5.]

[Update 5 (12/17/08, 2:27 pm): Here are the 1st 5 of the 15 from the rest of his top 70 that HD will profile.]

[Update 6 (12/18/08, 7:17 am): Here are the 2nd 5 of the last 15 HD will profile.]

[Update 7 (12/23/08, 12:02 am): Here's the last in HD's (planned) profile series--but I'm sure he'll take requests!]

[Update 8 (12/29/08, 10:07 am): Daniel Wexler takes a look at the top 15 in the year-end Rolex Rankings.]

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