Monday, August 9, 2010

The Best of the LPGA: August 2010 Edition

No time like the present to update my July ranking of the Best of the LPGA--seriously, this is my last chance to make this a post-Women's British Open ranking, rather than a pre-Safeway Classic ranking! As usual, I'll be mashing up the LPGA money list (through the Women's British Open), the August 3rd Hound Dog Top 70 (which focuses exclusively on LPGA performances and results from 2010 and 2009), the August 2nd Rolex Rankings (which assigns points based on results over the last 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour), and the August 1st Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (which ranks players based on relative finishes over the last 52 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour) to divide LPGA players into tiers, then using my own judgment to rank them within each tier. (I've chosen last week's rankings so as not to reflect this past weekend's action on the KLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour.)

I think we need a cooler phrase than "we've entered a new era where #1 is up for grabs." How about this one: "Beware--there's a girl gang dominating the LPGA"?

1. Ji-Yai Shin: #1 money ($1.21M), #2 HD, #1 RR (10.48), #2 GSPI (68.69). Thanks in part to 1 terrible hole on Saturday at Birkdale, her T14 at the Women's British Open was her worst finish since her emergency appendectomy--not to mention her 1st finish outside the top 5 since the Bell Micro and only her 3rd such finish all season. Her Evian win, however, helped lift her to the top of the money list and helped her stay atop the Rolex Rankings (barely). Which is good enough to make her the consensus #1--for now.
2. Ya Ni Tseng: #3 money ($1.12M), #1 HD, #5 RR (9.93), #4 GSPI (68.90). Last month, I wrote, "if she can notch her 2nd major of the year at the Women's British Open, she'll be right back in the thick of things!" She did, and she is! With 2 LPGA majors and 3 worldwide wins in 2010, and riding a 7-event top 20 run, she's poised to supplant Shin as the Mostly Harmless Player of the Year. But then so are a half-dozen other great players....
3. Cristie Kerr: #6 money ($1.08M), #4 HD, #2 RR (10.47), #3 GSPI (68.87). After her sublime win at the LPGA Championship, she 1st had problems with her ballstriking, then with her putting. Still, she bounced back from her worst finish of the year (a T31 at Evian) with her 3rd top 5 in the '10 majors, despite having trouble finding the hole at Birkdale.
4. Suzann Pettersen: #4 money ($1.09M), #6 HD, #4 RR (10.23), #1 GSPI (68.32). Speaking of putting issues, her T14 at the WBO was her 3rd-worst finish of the year, but her T5 at Evian was her 7th such finish this season. With her hip injury flaring up lately, I'm surprised she played in the Ladies Irish Open this week. Guess she figures she'll get some real rest in September (when the LPGA has only 1 event and the LET only 2).
5. Ai Miyazato: #5 money ($1.09M), #3 HD, #3 RR (10.33), #8 GSPI (69.26). You know, it's not like she played badly on the European swing--T19 at Evian and T9 at the WBO would satisfy most golfers--but she put together just enough bad holes in a row at each event to knock herself out of contention early and needed superlative Sundays to salvage each event (7 of her 15 rounds in the 60s this season have come in the final round!). But with 2 missed cuts to go with her 4 wins this season, she's been passed by a foursome who have been more consistently excellent than she has been lately. Let's see how she plays in Japan this week--she has a chance to regain the #1 spot in the Rolex Rankings.
6. Na Yeon Choi: #2 money ($1.18M), #5 HD, #6 RR (8.80), #6 GSPI (68.93). She has a gold, 2 silvers, and a bronze since missing the 1st LPGA cut of her career at the LPGA Championship. Her name is everywhere on the LPGA stats pages, but the 2 that impress me the most are her 4.19 birdies per round rate (1st on tour) and 1.77 putts per green in regulation rate (T7 and the best of her LPGA career). She's been neck-and-neck with Tseng for tops in their rookie class and generation, so now that she's putting like a champion, I'm not surprised they've taken their duel to the top of the LPGA.
7. Song-Hee Kim: #7 money ($880.9K), #7 HD, #8 RR (7.26), #5 GSPI (68.91): Far and away the best player without an LPGA win and on my hot list for most likely to win a major, her T19 at the WBO was her 2nd-worst finish of the season (her worst was a T22 at the ShopRite). That's because she's the only player on tour with a scoring average below 70, she leads the tour with 24 rounds in the 60s, and she's averaging 4.12 birdies per round (tied for 2nd on tour with Cristie Kerr).

With Lorena Ochoa removed from the Rolex Rankings at her request but still listed in the other 3 measures I combine, I'm going to keep her in my system, like I did for Annika Sorenstam when she stepped away from the LPGA. She's a good benchmark for who belongs in the girl gang's lead chase pack--as it turns out, it's not even really a pack.

8. Paula Creamer: #8 money ($684.6K), #8 HD, #7 RR (7.55), #13 GSPI (69.79). Her European swing was both painful and disappointing after her magic at Oakmont, but if all the r'n'r she's going to be getting in the next 2 months makes a difference, watch out for her in October through December....
9. In-Kyung Kim: #9 money ($653.5K), #9 HD, #10 RR (7.07), #22 GSPI (70.14). When I interviewed her at the LPGA Championship, she aptly summed up her season to date as "on and off," but starting that week she's been nothing but on. Not only has she finished 5-4-3 in the last 3 majors, but in that same run she got a T2 at the Farr and a T2 on the LET yesterday. Normally I'd say that the leader of the LET money list and Rookie of the Year race would be due to move up these rankings, but she'll need an LPGA win this season to be initiated into the girl gang ahead of her.
10. Lorena Ochoa: #36 money ($176.5K), #10 HD, n.r. RR (#2 [9.20] as of 5/3/10); #8 GSPI (69.26). Nothing to add to what I wrote in June: "I still don't believe she's gone for good, but pretty soon she'll disappear from this list, just like Annika did before her. I'm still devastated."

Right behind the contenders for #1 and their lead chase pack are some excellent players with top 10s in at most 2 of the 4 systems and/or top 20s in at least 3 of them:

11. Morgan Pressel: #11 money ($581.9K), #12 HD, #14 RR (5.55), #9 GSPI (69.43). The best European swing of her career--only Na Yeon Choi was more consistently excellent than she was--boosts her past a lot of players who have been treading water (by elite standards) lately. I was a little surprised she didn't try to keep it going in Ireland last week at the site of next year's Solheim Cup, but at least she'll be rested for the Pacific NW swing at the end of August.
12. Karrie Webb: #16 money ($403.7K), #11 HD, #11 RR (6.68), #11 GSPI (69.64). Just noticed she's lost 7 to 10 yards off the tee from her averages over the previous 6 seasons. Earlier this season I was thinking it was her putting that was holding her back, but I wonder if that's being caused by not-as-sharp ballstriking lately? Whatever the reason, she had her 2 worst finishes of the season on the European swing.
13. Angela Stanford: #14 money ($473.4K), #13 HD, #13 RR (6.25), #10 GSPI (69.52). She extended her European swing by an extra week so she could get a sneak preview of the Solheim Cup course in Ireland and got her best finish (T19) in the last 3 weeks out of it. Which suggests how disappointing her Evian and WBO were.
14. Anna Nordqvist: #20 money ($319.7K), #14 HD, #9 RR (7.18), #19 GSPI (69.97). Her stats are better than her results thus far this year, but she should take some confidence from her T6 in Ireland last week from the LET back to the LPGA.
15. Michelle Wie: #19 money ($321.3K), #15 HD, #12 RR (6.57), #18 GSPI (69.96). 1 bad round in Evian and at Birkdale torpedoed her chances of contending either week, but she bounced back from terrible performances in the previous 2 majors and got her 2nd top 20 in a row at the WBO. On the other hand, she'll have to keep improving to avoid getting passed by those behind her.
16. Inbee Park: #10 money ($605.3K), #16 HD, #15 RR (5.54), #21 GSPI (70.07). I was surprised to see that she's only been having a very good run with her putter this season on the LPGA, rather than how she's usually done (among the very best on tour). Just like fellow '07er In-Kyung Kim has a chance to win the LET's money title this season, Park has a shot at #1 on the JLPGA. But she'll have to consider skipping the NW Arkansas event to build up some momentum in September in Japan if this is a serious goal of hers.
17. Amy Yang: #13 money ($515.9K), #17 HD, #27 RR (3.63), #16 GSPI (69.87). I stand by my June prediction that "[s]he's due for a win soon." I still have that feeling. She bounced back from her worst finish of the season at Evian with her 2nd consecutive top 5 in a major at the WBO. Even though she could only manage a T19 in Ireland, she's ready to win during the LPGA's Pacific NW swing. You heard it here 1st!
18. Brittany Lincicome: #17 money ($382.9K), #18 HD, #18 RR (4.36), #33 GSPI (70.65). Last month, I wrote, "She continues to impress me. I wouldn't be surprised if she makes a move up this list." And lo and behold she did! Going T11 at Evian and T9 at Birkdale will do the trick--and she continued her run with a T8 in Ireland.

It's not like the players in this big group are doing badly--after all, they have at most 2 top 20s and/or at least 3 top 30s--but they'll have to get it going if they want to knock anyone above them out of the top 20!

19. Sun Young Yoo: #12 money ($538.8K), #19 HD, #25 RR (3.95), #32 GSPI (70.65). T23 at Evian and T31 at the WBO were solid finishes, but not enough to sustain her rise up these rankings. Has she peaked?
20. Katherine Hull: #15 money ($455.8K), #21 HD, #19 RR (4.35), #34 GSPI (70.70). Even though I wrote last month that "she's on track for an even better 2nd half" of the season, I never expected her to come so close to winning the WBO. But I should have noticed that her previous best of the season (a T4 at the ShopRite) came after a missed cut (at the State Farm). Yup, she missed the cut at Evian! Oh, and a final-round 64 and a 5th-place finish in Ireland suggest she's not done yet this season.
21. Catriona Matthew: #30 money ($206.4K), #20 HD, #23 RR (4.17), #28 GSPI (70.57). She didn't have the European swing she was hoping for. T23 at Evian isn't bad, but sandwiching it between 2 missed cuts in majors was not what the formerly-defending WBO champion needed.
22. Stacy Lewis: #18 money ($328.4K), #27 HD, #37 RR (2.99), #36 GSPI (70.75). A butchered 18th hole on Friday at Evian led to her 3rd missed cut of the season and her T31 at the WBO was nothing to write home about, but she still moved up these rankings during the European swing, thanks to even worse struggles by those formerly ahead of her.
23. M.J. Hur: #23 money ($307.9K), #28 HD, #28 RR (3.57), #30 GSPI (70.62). She's finished consistently around 30th since her runner-up to Ai Miyazato at the ShopRite, which was actually good enough for her to move up a bit from June's ranking.
24. Brittany Lang: #28 money ($214.6K), #23 HD, #29 RR (3.39), #43 GSPI (70.92). Thankfully, she was low American in Ireland (7th place after a pair of 68s on the weekend), because otherwise her European swing would have been a complete wash (MC at Evian and T43 at Birkdale). Her problems, strangely enough, seem to be starting with her driver (both distance and accuracy are way down), but they extend to her GIR rate (down) and her strokes on the greens (up). Maybe a week off is just what the swing doctor ordered.
25. Azahara Munoz: #22 money ($308.4K), #31 HD, #42 RR (2.66), #14 GSPI (69.85). The highest-ranked rookie on my list, she's already got a non-member LET win under her belt from her 1st tournament as a professional last season. She's just about ready to win on the LPGA. She hasn't missed a cut on the LPGA (her worst finish was her 1st, at the Kia Classic, a T31) and has a 9-event top-25 run going. Her T8 in Ireland last week keeps her momentum going. She still has a shot at winning both the LPGA and LET Rookie of the Year races this season, but she'll most likely have to skip the NW Arkansas event to have a real shot at catching In-Kyung Kim.

A large number of players have at most 2 top 30s and/or at least 3 top 40s:

26. Jee Young Lee: #21 money ($309.8K), #22 HD, #40 RR (2.82), #35 GSPI (70.73). Her 2 consecutive top 10s at the start of the season and 3 straight in the middle are distant memories now. Maybe some time off will help clear her mental palette of her MC at Evian and T62 at Birkdale.
27. Momoko Ueda: #35 money ($186.0K), #25 HD, #33 RR (3.26), #24 GSPI (70.31). A good WBO (T9 despite a weak final round) gives some hope for the 2nd half of a season that looked like it would fall victim to a nagging knee injury. Let's see how she plays on the JLPGA this week before we get too excited, though.
28. Hee Young Park: #27 money ($219.9K), #24 HD, #36 RR (3.06), #49 GSPI (71.26). Her European swing was only marginally better than Jelly's--MC at Evian and T55 at the WBO--but the way the Rocket is driving the ball this season she's due to take off any given week her putter decides to cooperate.
29. Maria Hjorth: #32 money ($192.3K), #30 HD, #34 RR (3.16), #26 GSPI (70.44). Her last 3 events are T16 at Evian, MC at the WBO, and T12 in Ireland--a microcosm of her 1st full season back since having her baby.
30. Sophie Gustafson: #37 money ($173.8K), #29 HD, #30 RR (3.38), #31 GSPI (70.64). Her come-from-behind win in Ireland boosted her to #6 on the LET money list in only 5 starts, but she didn't have that kind of magic in the 2 before it that count toward the LPGA money list (T31 at Evian and T43 at the WBO). Let's see if she can export it to the Pacific NW starting next week!
31. Jeong Jang: #26 money ($238.9K), #34 HD, #59 RR (2.07), #39 GSPI (70.80). Watch out for JJ! Since missing the cut in her 1st event this season, her worst finish was her very next start, a T48. She hasn't finished outside the top 40 since and has a 6-event top-30 run going, during which she notched 3 top 20s and a top 10s (thanks in part to a T8 at Evian). I'd say she's back from wrist surgery and ready to shoot up these rankings.
32. Kristy McPherson: #43 money ($146.5K), #35 HD, #32 RR (3.33), #37 GSPI (70.76). She had been putting very well all season until Oakmont, but hasn't since. Now both her putting and iron play lag behind her driving, which has been excellent. Her T29 in Ireland at least improves on her T563 at Evian and MC at the WBO.
33. Christina Kim: #24 money ($283.4K), #36 HD, #48 RR (2.46), #63 GSPI (71.48). In June, I wrote, "[s]he's got her putter going now, so watch out for her the rest of the season." She responded with a MC at Evian, but bounced right back with a T9 at Birkdale and a T12 in Ireland (she's 6th on the LET ROY list).
34. Se Ri Pak: #25 money ($241.7K), #55 HD, #31 RR (3.36), #101 GSPI (72.22). She's gone into a nosedive since getting her 25th career win in a playoff at the Bell Micro. The culprit: injuries.
35. Mika Miyazato: #29 money ($211.9K), #47 HD, #44 RR (2.51), #109 GSPI (72.40). Her best finish of the season--a T6 at Evian--gives her one of the biggest upward moves on the rankings, but she followed it up with a MC at the WBO. She decided to go back to Florida rather than home to Okinawa as she did after last year's European swing. I'm looking for her to come back to action refreshed and ready to keep moving up the rankings.

A huge number of players have at most 2 top 40s and/or at least 3 top 50s:

36. Hee-Won Han: #31 money ($197.3K), #33 HD, #47 RR (2.47), #53 GSPI (71.33). In JUne, I noted that "T4 at the ShopRite was the highlight of her season to date, a MC at Oakmont the low point" and I asked, "Which Han will show up in Europe?" Well, the answer was kind of both: she finished T29 at Evian but missed the cut at the WBO. So the question still stands for the Pacific NW swing at the end of this month....
37. Shanshan Feng: #33 money ($189.9K), #32 HD, #69 RR (1.84), #55 GSPI (71.34). In June, I wrote that she's "playing--and putting--very well in 2010. Looks like her slump from last season is finally over." After missing the cut at Oakmont, she couldn't break into the top 50 in either European swing event, which makes it 4 starts in a row outside the top 50. She's putting too well this season for that streak to continue.
38. Seon Hwa Lee: #50 money ($120.8K), #38 HD, #55 RR (2.14), #38 GSPI (70.77). After missing 2 cuts in a row for the 1st time in her LPGA career back in June, she made like Feng and couldn't find a top 50 in Europe. And she had to birdie the 18th at Birkdale in the dark on Friday just to make the cut. Hopefully she'll figure something out during this 2-week layoff....
39. Meena Lee: #38 money ($173.7K), #39 HD, #75 RR (1.71), #52 GSPI (71.32). She bounced back from her missed cut at Oakmont with a T16 at Evian and a T43 at Birkdale. Not great, but not bad. She'll need to improve her approach shots and putting to continue moving up this list.
40. Karen Stupples: #40 money ($164.3K), #42 HD, #63 RR (1.95), #46 GSPI (71.10). She's cooled off from earlier in the season, not having cracked the top 30 in recent memory--and she didn't play well in Europe.
41. Candie Kung: #34 money ($187.4K), #49 HD, #45 RR (2.50), #54 GSPI (71.34). A disappointing European swing is in tune with her overall results in 2010. She hasn't had a top 20 in her last 7 starts. I wonder if she'll take advantage of her JLPGA membership in September to try to get her season going?
42. Juli Inkster: #45 money ($138.3K), #41 HD, #65 RR (1.88), #40 GSPI (70.83). Her missed cut at Oakmont was only her 2nd of the season, but her other was at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and her previous start was a T62 at Locust Hill. Fortunately, she salvaged her performance in majors this year with a T21 at the WBO, but preceded it with a T67 at Evian.
43. Lindsey Wright: #58 money ($94.3K), #51 HD, #38 RR (2.98), #61 GSPI (71.45). Her T37 at Evian was tied for her 3rd-best finish in what may well be an injury-curtailed season, but she followed it up with a MC at the WBO.
44. Vicky Hurst: #39 money ($170.3K), #62 HD, #60 RR (2.06), #78 GSPI (71.76). Another big mover up these rankings on the strength of a T11 at Evian and a T31 at the WBO. Let's see if she brings some momentum to the Pacific NW.

There's a very big group with at most 2 top 50s and/or at least 3 top 60s:

45. Karine Icher: #41 money ($163.5K), #40 HD, #84 RR (1.59), #62 GSPI (71.47).
46. Jimin Kang: #42 money ($150.0K), #43 HD, #88 RR (1.52), #69 GSPI (71.62).
47. Natalie Gulbis: #47 money ($130.4K), #44 HD, #67 RR (1.88), #51 GSPI (71.31).
48. Eun-Hee Ji: #62 money ($86.4K), #45 HD, #43 RR (2.58), #87 GSPI (72.00).
49. Shi Hyun Ahn: #56 money ($103.2K), #50 HD, #90 RR (1.48), #42 GSPI (70.89).
50. Stacy Prammanasudh: #51 money ($117.9K), #48 HD, #93 RR (1.40), #45 GSPI (70.96).
51. Na On Min: #49 money ($123.9K), #54 HD, #127 RR (1.00), #47 GSPI (71.11).
52. Alena Sharp: #55 money ($105.0K), #52 HD, #109 RR (1.17), #57 GSPI (71.38).
53. Meaghan Francella: #44 money ($142.0K), #53 HD, #78 RR (1.68), #124 GSPI (72.76).
54. Wendy Ward: #46 money ($134.8K), #66 HD, #77 RR (1.68), #98 GSPI (72.19).
55. Gwladys Nocera: #48 money ($126.0K), n.r. HD, #102 RR (1.29), #122 GSPI (72.64).
56. Kris Tamulis: #73 money ($57.0K), #46 HD, #143 RR (.85), #91 GSPI (72.05).

There's a large group with at most 2 top 60s and/or at least 3 top 70s:

57. Amanda Blumenherst: #52 money ($115.4K), #65 HD, #87 RR (1.58), #58 GSPI (71.42).
58. Haeji Kang: #53 money ($110.7K), #58 HD, #103 RR (1.27), #84 GSPI (71.93).
59. Katie Futcher: #60 money ($91.2K), #56 HD, #111 RR (1.13), #83 GSPI (71.93).
60. Kyeong Bae: #54 money ($105.4K), #60 HD, #83 RR (1.59), #104 GSPI (72.30).
61. Amy Hung: #57 money ($96.4K), #57 HD, #110 RR (1.15), #92 GSPI (72.06).
62. Heather Bowie Young: #61 money ($87.3K), #59 HD, #114 RR (1.10), #60 GSPI (71.45).
63. Helen Alfredsson: #63 money ($80.6K), #69 HD, #63 RR (1.95), #106 GSPI (72.33).
64. Sherri Steinhauer: #64 money ($76.7K), n.r. HD, #190 RR (.61), #59 GSPI (71.44).
65. Laura Davies: #91 money ($33.0K), n.r. HD, #56 RR (2.13), #67 GSPI (71.62).
66. Pat Hurst: #59 money ($93.8K), n.r. HD, #79 RR (1.66), #85 GSPI (71.94).

And here are the many players with at most 2 top 70s and/or at least 3 top 80s:

67. Sarah Jane Smith: #65 money ($70.9K), #61 HD, #120 RR (1.05), #88 GSPI (72.22).
68. Mi Hyun Kim: #71 money ($59.3K), #68 HD, #159 RR (.76), n.r. GSPI (71.77) [too few events in database].
69. Mindy Kim: #72 money ($57.3K), #64 HD, #156 RR (.77), #119 GSPI (72.55).
70. Karin Sjodin: #80 money ($46.1K), #63 HD, #173 RR (.69), #134 GSPI (72.92).
71. Moira Dunn: #76 money ($51.7K), #70 HD, #160 RR (.75), #105 GSPI (72.32).
72. Michele Redman: #79 money ($46.9K), n.r. HD, #73 RR (1.73), #71 GSPI (71.64).
73. Teresa Lu: #66 money ($66.3K), n.r. HD, #97 RR (1.34), #100 GSPI (72.22).
74. Sandra Gal: #67 money ($63.8K), n.r. HD, #98 RR (1.32), #93 GSPI (72.08).
75. Janice Moodie: #68 money ($63.5K), n.r. HD, #106 RR (1.23), #113 GSPI (72.41).
76. Jennifer Rosales: #70 money ($60.8K), n.r. HD, #133 RR (.91), #75 GSPI (71.74).
77. Ji Young Oh: #77 money ($49.5K), n.r. HD, #70 RR (1.88), #126 GSPI (72.71).
78. Maria Hernandez: #69 money ($63.4K), n.r. HD, #130 RR (.95), #133 GSPI (72.87).
79. Chella Choi: #78 money ($47.7K), n.r. HD, #147 RR (.82), #70 GSPI (71.63).
80. Diana D'Alessio: #90 money ($33.8K), #67 HD, #235 RR (.41), #144 GSPI (73.15).

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