Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best on the LPGA: 1-Time Winners, May 2010

1 may be the loneliest number, but I'll bet those on this ranked list of best players on the LPGA with a single tour victory wouldn't prefer to return to my Best Without a Win list. At the same time, those on that list may want to avoid making their 1st win the U.S. Women's Open, the Safeway, the Farr, the State Farm, or any event in Mexico. It's looking like the Corning Classic's demise will spare 1st-time winners that particular jinx, unless LPGA commissioner Michael Whan finds a way to revive it in 2011. You'll see what I mean when you check out these profiles of 1-time winners on the LPGA, ranked in part by career achievements and mostly by what I expect from them over the rest of the 2010 season.

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. Michelle Wie: According to Hound Dog, she was part of the 2nd-greatest collective rookie season in LPGA history (behind Seon Hwa Lee's and Ai Miyazato's '06ers) and had an ROY-quality year--good enough for 12th on his list of all-time individual rookie performances on the LPGA. Even on a limited schedule in 2009, she ended up #11 on my final Best of the LPGA ranking. So it ahould be no surprise that with Ai Miyazato graduating from this list back in February, Wie's my new frontrunner here, particularly in light of the fact that I picked her to finish 4th on tour this season. I expect her to really get it going when the LPGA starts playing more regularly. [Update (8/30/10): Nice to see I was right that Wie would be the 1st to graduate from this list!]
2. Jee Young Lee: She's coming off her worst year in her 4 as an LPGA member following her non-member win in Korea in 2005, but she finally seemed to be on the comeback trail at its end, finishing 2009 with 3-straight top 20s and ending up #33 on my Best of the LPGA ranking. As I said back in February, "There's only 1 direction she can move in 2010. There's no way a player of her caliber has 2 bad seasons in a row." And lo and behold, she's gotten 4 top 10s in 7 starts this season.
3. Inbee Park: She's definitely slogged her way through her U.S. Women's Open jinx (see #29 and #30, below), having played well in Asia at the end of 2009 (T7 in Korea, T5 in Japan, T2 at JLPGA Q-School). As I said in the preseason, "If she plays her scheduling cards as well in 2010, she can build momentum on the JLPGA and improve on her #5 standing in her rookie class ('07ers) and #14 standing in her generation (Young Guns). I definitely expect her to improve on her #52 standing on my Best of the LPGA ranking." And lo and behold she's #2 on the JLPGA money list and on a 4-event top-20 streak on the LPGA, with 3 top 10s in that run.

The Contenders

4. Momoko Ueda: She won the 2007 Mizuno Classic as a JLPGA member and she did it with a bang:

Since then, she's brought her victory total on the JLPGA to 8, but has only cracked the top 10 as an LPGA member 7 times in 43 starts. So why do I rank her so high here? Well, she got 2 of them in the 2nd half of 2009, when the work she'd been putting into her game over the previous season and a half finally started to pay off. She gave herself a chance to win in Thailand has has finished in the top 30 in 5 of her 6 starts this season.
5. Katherine Hull: In 2009, she showed that her hot streak at the end of 2008, jumpstarted by her win at the Canadian Women's Open, was a true quantum leap, making the top 30 on the money list and keeping her scoring average in the mid-71s for the 2nd-straight season. Back in February, I wrote that "I'm looking for her to add to her total of 18 career LPGA top 10s in a big way in 2010, particularly if she augments her 7 ALPG wins at home Down Under in the next few weeks. She finished 2009 ranked #27 on my Best of the LPGA ranking and I don't see her going any lower in 2010." Well, she hasn't finished outside the top 35, but her best finish is a T20. [Update (10/12/10): Forgot to note here that Hull finally broke through for win #2 in a big way in Prattville--by chasing down Cristie Kerr and Na Yeon Choi, outracing Brittany Lincicome, and breaking Lorena Ochoa's 72-hole tournament record!]
6. Sun Young Yoo: In the preseason, I wrote, "This late-blooming '06er has the game to contend any given week, but hasn't done it as often as she will in 2010. She gets a good number of top 20s (31 in 104 LPGA starts) and has started to get comfortable with her name near the top of the leaderboard (3 top 3s and 13 top 10s at the end of 2009 are big improvements on where she stood at the end of 2008)." Well, now that she's gotten that 1st win at the Sybase Match Play Championship, I wonder what's in store for her the rest of the season?
7. M.J. Hur: I never expected her to beat Vicky Hurst, Stacy Lewis, and Shiho Oyama from the class of 2009 to that 1st LPGA victory, but she faced down Suzann Pettersen and Michele Redman in a playoff at the Safeway Classic to do it. Let's see if she can do better in the next few seasons than Soo-Yun Kang did after her lone LPGA win at the Safeway in 2005. With only 1 other top 10 in the 12 events she completed in 2009 (against 10 that she didn't finish), the jury's still out on her in 2010. But I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt for now. After all, she made #37 on my final Best of the LPGA ranking in 2009. And after her T13 in Thailand, I'm thinking she's in a better place than Gulbis and Castrale right now.
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. If she can stay healthy this coming season, there's no reason she can't get back to that level. Yes, that's a big "if," but she's coming off a season where she brought her scoring average back in the low 71s and--even though she had to shut things down when her back started acting up again in October and November--still ended up #30 in my final Best of the LPGA ranking. So I'm actually optimistic for her in 2010. Her T40 in Thailand was a pretty big disappointment, however.
9. Nicole Castrale: Her 2 Solheim Cup appearances and playoff win at the Ginn Tribute in 2007 pushed me to give her the benefit of the doubt and rank her in this category, but she'll need to work very hard in 2010 to bounce back from a very disappointing 2009, when she missed 10 cuts, saw her scoring average approach 72.50, fell outside the top 50 on the money list, and only managed to get her 19th and 20th career top 10s on the LPGA. Still, I'd be very surprised to see her end up in 2010 as low as she ended up in last year's final Best of the LPGA ranking (#54).

Quantum Leap Candidates

10. Julieta Granada: This Senior Standout has been hanging on to her LPGA card by the skin of her teeth the last 2 seasons, playing well in Q-School both years to improve the priority status she earned from the regular season. She'll be trying out dual LPGA-LET membership for the 2nd year in a row this coming season, this time with a bunch of fellow Spanish speakers joining her, so it'll be interesting to see if she plays more often on the LET in 2010. That ADT Championship win at the end of her rookie season and those 10 top 10s in her 1st 2 years on tour are looking more and more like blips than foundations of a great LPGA career, but I can't justify ranking her lower than this just yet.
11. Shi Hyun Ahn: Like Jee Young Lee and Momoko Ueda, 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. Whereas she was a regular on the top 30 of the money list over her 1st 4 seasons, she's slipped into the 50s the last 2, missing more cuts (10 in 38 starts) and getting fewer top 10s (only 3) than usual. Let's see if she can reverse that trend in 2010.
12. Leta Lindley: Injuries curtailed her schedule in 2009, not even allowing her to defend her 2008 Corning Classic title. But as that win gives her high-priority status through the 2011 season, she's in good shape to begin adding again to her total of 33 career top 10s.
13. 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. To make matters worse, Francella had to deal with injury issues of her own over the next season and a half, but the Senior Standout bounced back in 2009 by getting her 5th and 6th top 10s on tour, breaking the 73 barrier in scoring average for the 1st time in her career, and returning to the top 50 of both the money list and my Best of the LPGA ranking, so things are looking up for this NYer in 2010.
14. Eunjung Yi: Her playoff victory over Morgan Pressel at the Farr last year remains her only LPGA top 10 since her LPGA career began in 2008. She won Hound Dog's fluke victory of 2009 award, a dubious distinction. The only way things could be worse for her prospects in 2010 would be if her defeat of Pressel had come in a U.S. Women's Open (see Kim, Birdie, below). Seriously, it remains to be seen what she'll do over the next 2 seasons she's guaranteed high priority status on the LPGA. And she starts 2010 having ended 2009 ranked #53 in my system. There's still hope for her! But I'm thinking her T32 in Thailand is more representative of how she stacks up against the LPGA's elite than her 1 win....

On the Bottom, Looking Up

15. Heather Bowie Young: She won at the Farr in 2005 and has collected 26 top 10s since joining the LPGA in 2000. 2009 was her 1st season without 1 and while her scoring average held steady, her made-cut rate plummeted to the lowest of her career. Still, she ended the season just outside the top 80 and will be playing a full schedule again in 2010. Let's see what she makes of it.
16. 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. She's been struggling to keep her card the last 4 seasons; let's see if my junior golf buddy can add to her 23 career LPGA top 10s in 2010.
17. 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. She's still making her share of cuts, but of her 17 career top 10s since she started on the LPGA in 2001, only 2 have come after 2005.
18. Jimin Kang: She's never matched her 1st full season in 2005, when she won the Corning Classic and finished 39th on the money list, but since then she hasn't lost her card and has added to her top 10 total every season (she now has 9). Let's see if she can reverse 2009's worrying trend of missing more cuts than usual--which dropped her to #74 on my year-end Best of the LPGA ranking--this coming season.
19. 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. She's finished outside the top 100 on the money list the last 2 seasons, though, so 2010 is a crucial year for her. It's her last in Category 6 on the priority status list, for starters. She needs a good season to get off Hound Dog's fluke victories list!
20. 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 has only played 24 events over the last 2 seasons and hasn't cracked the 73 barrier in scoring average in that span. At #146 on the priority status list (at the head of Category 15), though, she should get plenty of chances to get back on track in 2010.
21. Louise Friberg: Her come-from-behind rookie win at the MasterCard Classic in 2008 gives her high-priority status in 2010 and 2011, which is a good thing, because she made only 3 cuts in 21 starts in 2009.
22. Kelli Kuehne: She got a medical exemption for 2010 and sits at #143 on the priority status list, so she'll get another chance to see if she can return to her 1999-2004 form, when she won at the Corning Classic at the start of that run and notched 24 of her 26 career top 10s over the course of it. Since then, though, she hasn't broken the 73 barrier in scoring average in any season and has made only 33 of 86 cuts. So 2010 may be her swan song.

On the Outside, Looking In

23. Young Kim: Last season was the 1st in her 7-year LPGA career that she failed to break into the top 10. Look for her to add to her total of 22 in 2010, when she'll also be looking to add a JLPGA victory to her 2 KLPGA ones after winning medalist honors at their Q-School in December. Whether she'll add to her win column at the LPGA remains to be seen, but if anyone on this list is going to break the Corning Classic jinx (see #12, #18, and #23), I would expect her to be the one to do it! But it probably won't happen this season, as she's playing full-time on the JLPGA and is now listed as a "Former Tour Member."
24. Kris Tschetter: Her current bio page is coming up blank on, so I'm going with her 2008 page. Her rookie season was 1988, she won the Northgate Computer Classic in 1992, and she sits at #160 on the priority status list for 2010. Even though 2002 was her last solid season, her 50 career top 10s show that she's got the talent to bounce back, now that her kids are elementary school age.
25. Sung Ah Yim: Like Joo Mi Kim, she joined the LPGA in 2005 and got her 1st win in 2006, at the Florida's Natural Charity Classic. But in the last 3 seasons she has neither added to her career total of 8 top 10s nor broken the 74 barrier in scoring average. At #227 on the priority status list (the last player in Category 15a), it's an open question how many events she'll get in on the LPGA in 2010--for all I know, she may have decided to play the KLPGA full-time or spend most of her time on the Futures Tour (where she played in 2004). In any case, it's going to be difficult for her to play her way out of the #6 spot in Hound Dog's fluke victories list.
26. 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 in her rookie class. Well, she's heading back to the KLPGA in 2010, according to Happy Fan at Seoul
27. Marisa Baena: Her LPGA career started in 1999, but after a terrible 2004, it looked like it was in jeopardy. She bounced back in 2005 with a win in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship from the 60th seed. She'll need to draw on that experience in 2010, as 2009 was her 2nd-worst year on tour. She finds herself #159 on the priority status list, which means it'll be difficult for her to put together a consistent schedule, much less get her 14th career top 10 and 2nd since 2005.
28. Kate Golden: Her win at the State Farm Classic in 2001 was part of a run from 2000-2004 when she averaged in the mid 72s in scoring and mid-$200Ks in winnings, but since then she hasn't made more than half her cuts in any season and has only added 1 top 10 to her career total of 14. At #225 on the priority status list in 2010, this could be the last year of an LPGA career that started in 1992.
29. Birdie Kim: I had wanted to put her higher on this list, feeling that 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. But no, she's only made 13 cuts in 31 starts over the last 2 seasons, hasn't added to her career total of 4 top 10s in that span, and has never broken the 73 barrier in scoring average since she started on the LPGA in 2004. Her exemption from that Open victory runs out in 2010; let's see what she makes of what could end up being her last season on tour.
30. Hilary Lunke: She may never be knocked from the top spot in Hound Dog's fluke victory list. Thanks to a medical exemption, her 2003 U.S. Women's Open victory ensures she'll be able to play a full schedule in 2010. Her 2nd career top 10 can wait on remembering what it's like to make cuts: she's 6 for 36 over the last 3 seasons.

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