Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Best off the LPGA: The JLPGA's Finest, September-Plus Edition

With both Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda having played the minimum number of JLPGA events to be included in this update to my last ranking of the tour's finest--and with both having gotten a win under their belts already--it'll be interesting to see how they stack up against the tour's regulars. So once again, this functionally illiterate expert will combine the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the current JLPGA money list, and 2008 JLPGA money list to rank the JLPGA's finest.

There's a new Big 4 on the JLPGA, but nobody's done enough to displace Yokomine from the top spot just yet.

1. Sakura Yokomine: #2 2009 money (¥127.50M), #15 GSPI (70.32) [2], #18 RR (4.22) [2], #3 2008 money (¥103.19M). After a little blip early in the 2nd half of the season, she's back to being the dominant player on the JLPGA, having gotten a win and 5 other top 10s in her last 6 starts.

2. Shinobu Moromizato: #1 2009 money (¥142.83M), #33 GSPI (71.06) [8], #20 RR (4.06) [3], #12 2008 money (¥64.37M). With the best run of the season of anyone on tour--7 straight top 10s, including 3 golds, a silver, and a bronze--she was poised to take the #1 spot away from Yokomine. But she's gone T35-T20-T4-T23 in her last 4 events and even that good result was a disappointment: her Grand Slam hopes slammed to a screeching halt that week in the Japan Women's Open. Let's see if she can get herself back together and preserve or extend her lead in wins and winnings on the rest of the Big 4 between now and the end of November.

3. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #4 2009 money (¥105.12M), #26 GSPI (70.93) [6], #25 RR (3.69) [4], #6 2008 money (¥90.85M). She leads the tour not only in birdie rate and putts per green in regulation this season, but also in heartbreaking near-misses for wins. Let's see how well she recovers from her latest one last week.

4. Chie Arimura: #3 2009 money (¥105.21M), #51 GSPI (71.73) [11], #33 RR (3.21) [8], #23 2008 money (¥47.35M). After a fantastic 12-event top-20 run with 3 golds, 3 silvers, a bronze, and only 2 finishes outside the top 10 in it, she's cooled off fast in her last 2 events, finishing T29 and T11.

Among the best players who haven't racked up multiple wins or made it into the 100 Million Yen Club this season, I have to put the JLPGA's irregulars at the top of the list.

5. Ai Miyazato: #16 2009 money (¥32.49M), #6 GSPI (69.61) [1], #9 RR (6.70) [1], #32 2008 money (¥27.89M). If she sticks to her plans, it looks like she'll be playing 2 more JLPGA events in '09 than in her rookie season on the LPGA in 2006, when she garnered 2 golds, 2 silvers, and a bronze in 7 starts and made the top 10 on the money list. In only 5 events this season, she's less than 10 million yen out of the top 10 already. And she still has this week's and next week's events to play before returning for the joint JLPGA-LPGA Mizuno Classic and again for the Ricoh Cup at the end of November.

6. Momoko Ueda: #21 2009 money (¥28.51M), #25 GSPI (70.88) [5], #26 RR (3.66) [5], #17 2008 money (¥54.62M). In her 8 JLPGA events of '09, she's never finished outside the top 20 and has a gold, a silver, and 3 other top 10s, but she's not played up to her expectations. After taking this week off, it's looking like she'll be playing only 3 more JLPGA events this season--the ones with purses at or over 100 million yen. Let's see if she can surpass her LPGA rookie season's JLPGA performance last year in her time remaining on this one.

7. Ji-Hee Lee: #6 2009 money (¥60.34M), #21 GSPI (70.80) [3], #32 RR (3.24) [7], #2 2008 money (¥119.65M). It's hard to tell where she's headed right now: she's had 2 top 5s in her last 3 events, but also her 2 worst finishes of the season in her last 5 starts. She's no longer the top-10 and top-5 machine she was last season, but she still has 10 and 7, respectively, in 20 starts this one. But with only 1 '09 win, she's going to need quite a run down the home stretch to break the 100-million-yen barrier for the 2nd year in a row.

8. Yuko Mitsuka: #5 2009 money (¥69.40M), #31 GSPI (71.06) [7], #42 RR (2.49) [10], #7 2008 money (¥83.56M). She's been inconsistent at best lately, with 2 top 5s to go with a missed cut, a withdrawal, and 2 finishes outside the top 20 in her last 8 starts. Let's see if she can get some positive momentum on the JLPGA to take with her to LPGA Q-School the 1st week of December.

9. Miho Koga: #7 2009 money (¥58.12M), #39 GSPI (71.31) [9], #38 RR (2.82) [9], #1 2008 money (¥120.85M). Her T11 last week broke a 7-event top-10 streak, but she still hasn't finished worse than that in her last 10 events, so I'd say last season's money-list leader is poised for a stretch run to match last year's explosive play, when she won 2 of her last 3 events and snatched the money title away from Lee in the process. But she'll need to win at least once before the end of the season to qualify for the Ricoh Cup.

10. Yuri Fudoh: #11 2009 money (¥38.88M), #23 GSPI (70.83) [4], #30 RR (3.51) [6], #5 2008 money (¥91.86M). She's another player you're shocked to see hasn't yet won on tour this season and has both missed a cut and finished outside the top 20 twice in 15 starts (including a T33 last week). Even opening with a 63 a few weeks ago and breaking 70 all 3 rounds wasn't enough to get her into the winner's circle in '09. But there's still time for the JLPGA's only Billion Yen Woman to heat up.

Still waiting for Akiko Fukushima to jump-start her season. But as you can see, it takes a lot for the up-and-coming stars on tour to catch her.

11. Bo-Bae Song: #8 2009 money (¥47.04M), #48 GSPI (71.60) [10], #56 RR (2.09) [11], #13 2008 money (¥63.47M). Winning a major is a good way to fulfill my August prediction that she ought to be moving up my rankings. But she hasn't done much that's very special the rest of the season. If she improves her putting and keeps making birdies like she did in the Japan Women's Open, though, she can break into the JLPGA's elite before the season is out.

12. Akiko Fukushima: #13 2009 money (¥34.67M), #72 GSPI (72.21) [12], #58 RR (2.04) [12], #4 2008 money (¥96.50M). She's only had 2 good events in her last 11 starts since her 6-event top-20 run came to an end, but both times she put herself in contention. Never count out a player who's less than 170 million yen away from becoming the 2nd Billion Yen Woman in JLPGA history.

13. Eun-A Lim: #12 2009 money (¥38.11M), #76 GSPI (72.26) [13], #60 RR (1.97) [13], #9 2008 money (¥73.41M). Had a 5-event top-10 run going for awhile there, but with 2 missed cuts, a T33, and a T15 in her last 4 starts, she's in serious danger of falling further next ranking.

14. Yukari Baba: #9 2009 money (¥46.47M), #69 GSPI (72.46) [11], #68 RR (1.67) [14], #26 2008 money (¥44.14M). She rode a 5-event streak that included a silver and 2 bronzes and no finish worse than T13, but has gone T26-T10-T23 her last 3 starts. Has the fastest mover up this ranking peaked?

15. Ayako Uehara: #14 2009 money (¥34.48M), #104 GSPI (72.72) [17], #82 RR (1.37) [18], #14 2008 money (¥63.31M). Her putting remains her Achilles heel, but even though she's finished outside the top 20 in her last 3 starts and outside the top 10 in her last 4, and only has 1 top 10 in her last 14 starts, she still has a win under her belt this season, so there's hope for her to surpass last one, the best in her JLPGA career.

16. Miki Saiki: #18 2009 money (¥31.93M), #81 GSPI (72.37) [14], #75 RR (1.53) [16], #20 2008 money (¥50.84M). Since going MC-T50 midway through the season, her worst finish in her last 9 starts--and only 1 outside the top 20--has been T35. In that stretch, she's gotten 4 top 10s, with her best finish being a runner-up when she went 65-65 on the weekend. So I'd say she's recovered from her disappointing finish in last December's LPGA Q-School. Let's see how strongly she can close out this season.

The last set of players includes those who have cooled off after a fast start to the season and vice versa.

17. Erina Hara: #15 2009 money (¥32.51M), #139 GSPI (72.33) [32], #85 RR (1.28) [19], #10 2008 money (¥65.87M). Things have gone from bad to worse for this JLPGA young gun. She's missed 3 cuts in a row and 5 of her last 7. Here's hoping she turns it around at the end of the season.

18. Hiromi Mogi: #26 2009 money (¥25.96M), #109 GSPI (72.80) [18], #88 RR (1.20) [20], #18 2008 money (¥52.62M). Except for 2 MCs, 1 coming last week, she hasn't fallen outside the top 20 in her last 12 starts. But with only 2 top 10s in that stretch (bringing her season total to 5), she's not moving up the money list as fast as she ought to be.

19. Yuko Saitoh: #10 2009 money (¥42.02M), #117 GSPI (72.86) [20], #99 RR (1.08) [24], #34 2008 money (¥25.87M). She's only cracked the top 10 once in her last 8 starts, with a MC and 2 WDs in that stretch. I wonder if she's playing hurt.

20. Hyun-Ju Shin: #34 2009 money (¥12.27M), #123 GSPI (72.97) [26], #74 RR (1.56) [15], #11 2008 money (¥64.63M). For a brief stretch recently, she looked like she was rounding into form, with 4 top 20s in a row, but she finished T36 in the Japan Women's Open and withdrew from last week's Sankyo Ladies Open. Hoping her injuries that cut short last season aren't the cause of her recent struggles.

21. Nikki Campbell: #20 2009 money (¥29.84M), #86 GSPI (72.46) [15], #106 RR (1.03) [29], #33 2008 money (¥27.04M). She's got a 4-event top 20 streak going and has 3 top 10s in that run. With the lowest scoring average of her JLPGA career going, she has the chance for 2009 to be her best season ever.

22. Rikako Morita: #22 2009 money (¥28.13M), #172 GSPI (73.66) [38], #94 RR (1.14) [22]. After missing the cut in 7 of her 1st 9 events, this rookie has heated up and cooled off; after putting herself in contention quite often mid-season, she's missed the top 20 in 6 of her last 7 events. But she did get a top 10 in the year's 2nd major and she has a 17-event made-cut streak going, so there's still hope for her.

23. Maiko Wakabayashi: #24 2009 money (¥26.32M), #121 GSPI (72.94) [24], #93 RR (1.15) [21], #21 2008 money (¥50.06M). She hasn't played well her last 3 events, but she did get her 2nd bronze of the season right before that and her scoring average is the lowest of her short career, so with some good finishes down the stretch, '09 can still be her best year ever.

24. Rui Kitada: #19 2009 money (¥30.33M), #118 GSPI (72.87) [21], #101 RR (1.08) [26], #28 2008 money (¥36.34M). Her T6 this season gives her some hope that she can still get a win for the 3rd season in a row. She's on pace for her best season since 2004, when she won 3 times and finished 3rd on the money list.

25. Ah-Reum Hwang: #17 2009 money (¥32.43M), #122 GSPI (72.96) [25], #96 RR (1.11) [23], #44 2008 money (¥18.28M). She's only had 1 top 20 in her last 14 starts, which include 6 MCs and a WD. You have to wonder if she's playing hurt, too.

26. Ji-Woo Lee: #28 2009 money (¥25.09M), #99 GSPI (72.65) [16], #107 RR (1.02) [30], #22 2008 money (¥47.63M). After missing 2 cuts in a row midway through the season, she's made 12 in a row. But she hasn't gotten a top 10 in that stretch and only has 3 all season. With a hot finish, though, this could still turn out to be her best year on the JLPGA.

27. Midori Yoneyama: #25 2009 money (¥26.02M), #130 GSPI (72.74) [29], #100 RR (1.08) [25], #25 2008 money (¥45.29M). She hasn't gotten a top 10 in her last 10 starts, with 2 missed cuts in that stretch. It's not looking good for her to get back into the top 20 for the 1st time since 2005.

28. Mayu Hattori: #31 2009 money (¥23.51M), #124 GSPI (72.98) [27], #76 RR (1.52) [17], #15 2008 money (¥58.72M). She's come back from a terrible start to the season where she finished only 7 of her 1st 16 events, but now she's on an 8-event made-cut streak, with her 4th top 10 and best finish of the year coming just last week. In fact, if her birdie putt on 18 had fallen, she would have gotten into a playoff with Ai Miyazato. Look for her to finish the season strong.

29. Li-Ying Ye: #30 2009 money (¥24.13M), #137 GSPI (73.22) [23], #103 RR (1.05) [27]. She, too, is riding an 8-event made-cut streak after a bad start to her season, but she only has 1 top 20 in that run.

30. Saiki Fujita: #29 2009 money (¥24.54M), #126 GSPI (73.00) [28], #104 RR (1.04) [28], #29 2008 money (¥31.72M). Her 4th top 10 of the season at the Japan Women's Open gives her some hope that she can extend her winning streak to 4 straight seasons on the JLPGA, but with 2 MCs and a WD in her last 5 events, it's hard to say she has much momentum going.

31. Tamie Durdin: #23 2009 money (¥28.05M), #116 GSPI (72.86) [19], #111 RR (.94) [32], #55 2008 money (¥14.65M). Yes, she's gotten her 1st career JLPGA win this season and made it to the final stage of LPGA Q-School, but in her last 15 events, her best finishes besides a T6 midway through the season have been a pair of T20s and she's missed the cut in 5 of those starts. Time to get it going again in time for early December's challenge.

32. Akane Iijima: #34 2009 money (¥19.42M), #150 GSPI (73.34) [33], #115 RR (.90) [33], #19 2008 money (¥51.40M). She just suffered through a stretch where she missed 6 cuts in 9 starts, but last week was her 1st top 10 in her last 16 events, so maybe it's the start of something good for her.

[Update 1 (10/22/09, 7:32 am): Wow! There's going to be even more competition for the top spot in 2010, barring absolute meltdowns at JLPGA Q-School in late November and early December.]

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