Friday, January 31, 2014

RIP Danielle Downey

Danielle was a Rochester native and member of the LPGA's Class of 2006.  For everyone here at Mostly Harmless, our hearts go out to her family and friends.

[Update 1 (10:26 am):  Here's Auburn's report.]

[Update 2 (5:26 pm):  Here's the LPGA's.]

[Update 3 (2/4/14, 9:01 pm):  The New York Times is reporting that alcohol was a factor in Downey's fatal single-car accident.  Yet another layer of sadness added to this tragic story.]

[Update 4 (2/8/14, 3:05 am):  Here's bangkokbobby's moving response.]

Lydia Ko and Charley Hull Chase Stacey Tate and Seonwoo Bae in New Zealand on LET

Ruthless Mike has already noted that Lydia Ko and Charley Hull are part of a big group at -3 in the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open, 1 shot behind co-leaders Stacey Tate and Seonwoo Bae, and has conveniently listed the 1st-round scores of some of the biggest names in the field.

So I'll add a few notes and observations.  First, about Ko, who opened her round on the back with a birdie but proceeded to bogey 3 of her next 5 holes, then bounced back with a bogey-free 31 on the back to post a 69.  Her playing partners, Hull and Stacey Keating, also ran into some trouble early on, but righted the ship, as well, with Hull making 5 birdies in her last 13 holes and Keating salvaging a 71 with birdies on both par 5s on the front and no bogeys in her last 14 holes (and counting).

Second, I'll note that my picks to challenge Ko are right in the hunt.  Kyu-Jung Baek, the early favorite for Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA, opened with a 70, making 4 birdies in her 1st 10 holes but 2 bogeys in her last 11.  Christel Boeljon, who tied Ko in the LPGA's season-opener, offset her 3 birdies with a bogey on the back (her front) and a double on the front (her back), while ex-JLPGAer Nikki Campbell joined her at 72 when she made 3 birdies and 3 bogeys in her last 12 holes.  Even Joanna Klatten, a 3-time winner on the ALPG this month (although 2 were 1-round pro-am shootouts), who struggled coming home with a 3-bogey 38 on the front (her back), is only 5 shots off the pace set by Tate and Bae.

Third, it's worth noting that Ko's former junior and amateur rivals Ashley Ona and Cecelia Cho had more trouble and less resilience than the world #4.  Ona bogeyed 4 of her 1st 11 holes before bouncing back with back-to-back birdies on the back to salvage a 74.  And Cho opened with a birdieless 39 on the front, bounced back with a pair of birdies early on the back, but bogeyed the 363-yard par-4 17th to settle for a 73.  They're not out of it, but they'll need to play better tomorrow to even assure themselves of making the cut.

Still, they played as well as or better than a number of better-known and/or more-experienced golfers, including

  • Xi Yu Lin +2
  • Amelia Lewis +3
  • Minea Blomqvist +4
  • Sarah Kemp +6
  • Carly Booth +7
  • Julia Boland +8
  • Jia Yun Li +8
not to mention many of the bigger names that Ruthless Mike focused on.

Let's see what happens tomorrow!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ko & Co. to Vie for Big Kiwi on LET/ALPG

Less than a week after playing well enough to win her 1st tournament as an LPGA member, Lydia Ko travels most of the way around the world to defend her LET/ALPG title at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open against the likes of fellow teenagers Charley Hull, Kyu-Jung Baek, Xi Yu Lin, Cecelia Cho, and Shelly Shin, global superstars Laura Davies, Sophie Gustafson, Lorie Kane, Melissa Reid, and Gwladys Nocera, players making names for themselves like Christel Boeljon, Joanna Klatten, Valentine Derrey, Frances Bondad, Kristie Smith, Stacey Keating, Cathryn Bristow, and Rebecca Artis, and promising young guns Cheyenne Woods, Daniela Holmqvist, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Sally Watson, Carly Booth, and Ashley Ona.

Here are the prime-time pairings:

10th tee, 8:05 am: Lydia Ko, Charley Hull, Stacey Keating
10th tee, 8:15 am: Laura Davies, Gwladys Nocera, Sarah Jane Smith
10th tee, 12:40 pm: Sophie Gustafson, Christel Boeljon, Daniela Holmqvist
1st tee, 8:15 am: Lorie Kane, Kristie Smith, Camilla Lennarth
10th tee, 1:30 pm: Kyu-Jung Baek, Jia Yun Li, Shelly Shin
10th tee, 7:55 am: Lindsey Wright, Valentine Derrey, Cheyenne Woods
1st tee, 8:05 am: Nikki Campbell, Linda Wessberg, Ashley Ona
10th tee, 12:30 pm: Melissa Reid, Sarah Kemp, Bree Arthur
10th tee, 12:20 pm: Joanna Klatten, Rebecca Artis, Trish Johnson
1st tee, 12:10 pm: Becky Brewerton, Mi Hyang Lee, Hannah Burke
1st tee, 8:25 am: Minea Blomqvist, Julia Boland, Stacy Lee Bregman
10th tee, 7:45 am: Tamie Durdin, Marta Silva Zamora, Caroline Afonso
1st tee, 12:40 pm: Stephanie Na, Cecelia Cho, Ashlee Dewhurst
1st tee, 12:20 pm: Caroline Martens, Jessica Speechley, Yu Yang Zhang
1st tee, 12:30 pm: Xi Yu Lin, Beth Allen, Whitney Hillier

On paper, nobody in the field is in Ko's league, but how she deals with the pressure of defending a title she won as an amateur in her 4th start as a professional in front of the home crowd after being the subject of sometimes harsh media scrutiny for the 1st time in her golfing career and while dealing with jet lag is anyone's guess.  If I had to pick who's ready to give her a run for her money, I'd single out Christel Boeljon (who tied Ko in the Bahamas), much-heralded KLPGA rookie Kyu-Jung Baek, 3-time winner on the ALPG in 2014 Joanna Klatten, and ex-JLPGAer Nikki Campbell.  Let's see who's ready for prime time!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recommended Reading: Centurion on Lisa Ferrero's Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Please head on over to the new golf blog by Seoul regular Centurion for a post on Lisa Ferrero's breast cancer diagnosis.  And best wishes to Lisa and her family!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jessica Korda and Pornanong Phatlum Break $1M Barrier in Career LPGA Winnings

Please welcome the newest members of the LPGA's $1M Club, Jessica Korda and Pornanong Phatlum!  With her win at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, Korda jumped 214 points in my career ranking system and now stands at #26 among the players who have joined the LPGA since 2005.  Phatlum, meanwhile, has gone T5, 3rd, T3 in her last 3 LPGA starts and sandwiched 2 wins  on other tours between those last 2 top 3s.

Look for Sun Young Yoo to break the $4M barrier soon, for Michelle Wie to reach the $3M mark even sooner, for a nice race between Beatriz Recari, Chella Choi, and Lexi Thompson to the $2M milestone, and for Gerina Piller and Jenny Shin to be sprinting toward $1M.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Around the World of Women's Golf in 3 Links

Jessica Korda won the opening event on the LPGA for the 2nd time in her career, beating Stacy Lewis with a walkoff birdie.  It's the 3rd time in the last few months that Lewis got beat when the 72nd hole was a par 5.  If she ever gets into course design, I'll bet we won't see many closing par 5s from her!  In addition to the golfers I focused on yesterday who made this one so exciting, it was great to see Brittany Lincicome start the year with 4-straight under-par rounds, former 1st alternate Amelia Lewis and Monday qualifier Jenny Suh tie her, Kristy McPherson, Alena Sharp, and Sandra Changkija finish at -10, Laura Diaz get a top 25, Moriya Jutanugarn (-7) and Caroline Masson (-4) renew their rivalry, and Seon Hwa Lee and Jennifer Song make it to the weekend.  The big disappointment of the week was Beatriz Recari (MC), but Ai Miyazato (E) and Lexi Thompson (-1) were in the running.

Joanna Klatten won on the ALPG with a final-round 63, passing Nikki Campbell, Hannah Burke, Stephanie Na, Min-Jee Lee, Kristie Smith, and Lindsey Wright.  Other names who made the cut included Julia Boland, Frances Bondad, Jessica Speechley, Sally Watson, Beth Allen, Laura Davies, Felicity Johnson, Sarah Kemp, Cathryn Bristow, Jacqueline Hedwall, Alison Whitaker, Valentine Derrey, Tamie Durdin, Gwladys Nocera, Anya Alvarez, Ashley Ona, Marta Silva, Stacey Keating, Jean Chua, and Sophie Gustafson.  So it was a pretty decent field.

Ya Ni Tseng won the Taifong Open on the TLPGA, beating the likes of Ruby Pan, Bo-Mi Suh, Ya-Huei Lu, Nontaya Srisawang, Min Lee, Titiya Plucksataporn, Wei-Ling Hsu, Phoebe Yao, Tiffany Tavee, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, Babe Liu, Tzu-Chi Lin, and Ye-Na Chung.  Not the strongest field in the world--or even the week--and she didn't go low, but a win's a win.  I'll take any positive news I can find about the former world #1 whom I predicted would return to the LPGA's top 20 this season.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic Weekend: And the Winner Is...Jessica Korda!

After a thrilling moving day at the Ocean Club that saw Na Yeon Choi take a 1-shot lead on Lizette Salas into the final round of the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, the stage is set for a Sunday showdown where just about anything can happen.  Here are the last few pairings:
  • 11:44 am: Michelle Wie (-10), Azahara Munoz (-9)
  • 11:52 am: Lydia Ko (-10), P.K. Kongkraphan (-10)
  • 12:08 pm: Pornanong Phatlum (-10), Thidapa Suwannapura (-10)
  • 12:16 pm: Jenny Suh (-11), Chella Choi (-10)
  • 12:24 pm: Stacy Lewis (-11), Amelia Lewis (-11)
  • 12:32 pm: Paula Creamer (-12), Jessica Korda (-12)
  • 12:40 pm: Na Yeon Choi (-15), Lizette Salas (-14)
I was psyched to find out that Tiffany Joh shared low round honors on moving day with NYC, Salas, and Amelia Lewis, impressed to see that Creamer and Karine Icher each made 2 eagles, amazed at the roller coasters that Creamer, Korda, and Lexi Thompson rode, and disappointed at the performances of Ai Miyazato, Amy Yang, Birdie Kim, Candie Kung, and Natalie Gulbis.  Today, I'm psyched to see that Miyazato, Ayako Uehara, and Haru Nomura are all playing well, curious to see how non-Ko rookies Line Vedel, Mi Rim Lee, Kelly Tan, Erica Popson, and Megan Grehan finish, and hopeful the Thai trio near the top of the leaderboard will play well during a difficult and contentious time for their country.  I'll be rooting for NYC, though!  More soon!

[Update 1 (1:45 pm):  Here's how the leaderboard stands now:

-16 Lizette Salas (-2 through 4)
-15 Stacy Lewis (-4 through 6), Na Yeon Choi (E through 4)
-13 P.K. Kongkraphan (-3 through 8), Thidapa Suwannapura (-3 through 7), Paula Creamer (-1 through 5)
-12 Sandra Gal (-4 through 9), Chella Choi (-2 through 7), Pornanong Phatlum (-2 through 7), Jenny Suh (-1 through 6)

Harukyo Nomura shot a 66 to move to T19 at -9.]

[Update 2 (1:49 pm):  Other early scores from players I'm tracking:  Line Vedel's 68 moved her to -7 for the week and T26 right now, while 69s from Ayako Uehara and Mi Rim Lee got them to -5/T34 and a 71 from Ai Miyazato brought her back to E/62nd.]

[Update 3 (2:09 pm):  It's a fast-changing leaderboard!

-17 Stacy Lewis (-6 through 8)
-16 Lizette Salas (-2 through 6)
-15 Na Yeon Choi (E through 6)
-14 Sandra Gal (-6 through 11), P.K. Kongkraphan (-4 through 10), Thidapa Suwannapura (-4 through 9), Jessica Korda (-2 through 7)
-13 Chella Choi (-3 through 9), Pornanong Phatlum (-3 through 9), Paula Creamer (-1 through 7)
-12 Jenny Suh (-1 through 9)

Lewis and Gal are going off!  Can they keep it up?  Will Salas and Choi respond?]

[Update 4 (2:19 pm):  Salas has a 43-hole bogey-free run going!  Lewis's just ended at 10.]

[Update 5 (2:27 pm):  This leaderboard is awesome!

-18 Lizette Salas (-4 through 8)
-16 Stacy Lewis (-5 through 9), Na Yeon Choi (-1 through 8)
-15 Jessica Korda (-3 through 8)
-14 Sandra Gal (-6 through 12), P.K. Kongkraphan (-4 through 11), Thidapa Suwannapura (-4 through 10)
-13 Pornanong Phatlum (-3 through 11), Jenny Suh (-1 through 10), Paula Creamer (-1 through 8)
-12 Christel Boeljon (-4 through 14), Morgan Pressel (-5 through 13), Lydia Ko (-2 through 12), Chella Choi (-2 through 10)


[Update 6 (3:16 pm):  It's changing even as I'm trying to record it!

-17 Stacy Lewis (-6 through 13), Jessica Korda (-5 through 12), Na Yeon Choi (-2 through 12)
-15 Pornanong Phatlum (-5 through 14), Thidapa Suwannapura (-5 through 14), Lizette Salas (-1 through 12)
-14 Christel Boeljon (-6 through 16), Sandra Gal (-6 through 16),  Lydia Ko (-4 through 15), P.K. Kongkraphan (-4 through 15)
-13 Morgan Pressel (-6 through 16), Chella Choi (-3 through 14), Paula Creamer (-1 through 13)
-12 Michelle Wie (-2 through 15), Jenny Suh (-1 through 14)


[Update 7 (3:18 pm):  Salas's bogey-free run ended at 44 holes and she's since bogeyed 3 of her last 4 holes.  Korda birdied 5 holes out of her last 7 to get into a share of the lead, but it looks like she just bogeyed the par-4 13th.]

[Update 8 (3:20 pm):  NYC's bogey-free run is 30 holes and counting but Lewis just birdied the par-4 14th to pull 1 shot ahead of her!]

[Update 9 (3:32 pm):  Oh, geez, I invoked the Mostly Harmless jinx on Salas and now NYC!]

[Update 10 (3:33 pm):  Lewis could have won the tournament with an eagle on the par-5 15th, but she only parred it, so maybe she got a mini-jinx....]

[Update 11 (3:38 pm):  Time to check in on the leaderboard again!

-18 Stacy Lewis (-7 through 15)
-16 Jessica Korda (-4 through 14), Na Yeon Choi (-1 through 13)
-15 Sandra Gal (-7 through 17), Pornanong Phatlum (-5 through 15), Thidapa Suwannapura (-5 through 15), Lizette Salas (-1 through 13)
-14 Christel Boeljon (-6 through 17), Lydia Ko (-4 through 16), P.K. Kongkraphan (-4 through 16), Paula Creamer (-2 through 14)
-13 Morgan Pressel (-6 through 17), Chella Choi (-3 through 15)
-12 Brittany Lincicome (68), Jenny Suh (-1 through 15)

 Looks like it's coming down to the top 3.]

[Update 12 (3:58 pm):  We're officially in the home stretch now!

-18 Stacy Lewis (-7 through 16)
-17 Jessica Korda (-5 through 15), Na Yeon Choi (-2 through 14)
-15 Sandra Gal (66), Christel Boeljon (66) Pornanong Phatlum (-5 through 17), Paula Creamer (-3 through 15), Lizette Salas (-1 through 15)
-14 Morgan Pressel (66),  Lydia Ko (-4 through 17), Thidapa Suwannapura (-4 through 15), P.K. Kongkraphan (-4 through 17)
-12 Brittany Lincicome (68), Chella Choi (-2 through 16), Amelia Lewis (-1 through 16)

Let's see what happens!]

[Update 13 (4:18 pm):  NYC bogeys 16 to fall back to -16, Korda birdies 17 to get to -18, Phatlum birdies 18 to end her bid for her 3rd worldwide win in as many starts at -16.]

[Update 14 (4:25 pm):  Either is slow to update or there's a huge stack-up on the reachable par-5 18th!]

[Update 15 (4:35 pm):  Here's what the leaderboard looks like now:

-18 Stacy Lewis (-7 through 17), Jessica Korda (-6 through 17)
-16 Pornanong Phatlum (67), Na Yeon Choi (-1 through 17)
-15 Sandra Gal (66), Christel Boeljon (66), Lydia Ko (68), P.K. Kongkraphan (68), Paula Creamer (-3 through 17), Lizette Salas (-1 through 17)
-14 Morgan Pressel (66), Thidapa Suwannapura (69)
-12 Brittany Lincicome (68), Michelle Wie (71), Chella Choi (71), Jenny Suh (72), Amelia Lewis (-1 through 17)

Waiting to see what Stacy does on 18!]

[Update 16 (4:36 pm):  Stacy couldn't get up and down from just over the green in 2 and had to "settle" for  a final-round 66.]

[Update 17 (4:42 pm):  Now Jessica has an up-and-down chance from just over the green to win.  If she can do it, she'll join Shanshan Feng and Pornanong Phatlum by beating Stacy on a par-5 final hole.]

[Update 18 (4:48 pm):  Imagine if Korda's playing partner hadn't made 2 doubles and a triple this week!  Creamer would have won this thing by a mile!]

[Update 19 (4:49 pm):  Korda birdied 18!]

[Update 20 (4:56 pm):  And here's the penultimate leaderboard snapshot:

-19 Jessica Korda (66)
-18 Stacy Lewis (66)
-16 Pornanong Phatlum (67), Paula Creamer (69), Na Yeon Choi (-1 through 17)
-15 Sandra Gal (66), Christel Boeljon (66), Lydia Ko (68), P.K. Kongkraphan (68), Lizette Salas (-1 through 17)
-14 Morgan Pressel (66), Thidapa Suwannapura (69)
-12 Brittany Lincicome (68), Michelle Wie (71), Chella Choi (71), Jenny Suh (72), Amelia Lewis (72)

What a heartbreaking finish for Stacy but great comeback by Jessica from a shank on the back 9 on moving day!]

[Update 21 (7:59 pm):  Here's Tony Jesselli's overview!]

[Update 22 (8:03 pm):  And here's my final look at the top of the leaderboard:

-19 Jessica Korda (66)
-18 Stacy Lewis (66)
-16 Pornanong Phatlum (67), Paula Creamer (69), Lizette Salas (71), Na Yeon Choi (72)
-15 Sandra Gal (66), Christel Boeljon (66), Lydia Ko (68), P.K. Kongkraphan (68)
-14 Morgan Pressel (66), Thidapa Suwannapura (69)
-12 Brittany Lincicome (68), Michelle Wie (71), Chella Choi (71), Jenny Suh (72), Amelia Lewis (72)

After Friday's action, I predicted the winning score would be between -15 and -18.  Once again, the LPGA's best have exceeded my expectations!]

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic Friday: Game On!

Jessica Korda fired an 8-birdie 66 today in the 2nd round of the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic to take a 1-shot lead over Paula Creamer, who doubled her 1st hole of the day and responded by making 10 birdies the rest of the way.  Creamer's 65 was not the lone low round of the day, though.  Keeping the Team USA theme going, Michelle Wie hit 17 greens and took 28 putts on her way to a bogey-free 65 and Jenny Suh extended her own bogey-free run to 36 holes and counting when she matched Creamer's 66 to join Wie 2 shots behind Korda.  So much for my pre-tournament prediction that it would be harder to make birdies in bunches this time around the Ocean Club, eh?  Korda's averaging 7.5 birdies per round, Creamer 7, Wie 5, and Suh 4.5!

It wasn't all "USA! USA!" out there today, by the way.  The United Nations is 3 shots behind Korda, including the Netherlands' Christel Boeljon (7-birdie 67 on 24 putts), South Korea's Na Yeon Choi (6-birdie 68 without missing a green in regulation), Thailand's P.K. Kongkraphan (5-birdie 69 with only 25 putts), and New Zealand's own Lydia Ko (5-birdie 70).  But Lizette Salas used 6 birdies in her 1st 11 holes to pull within 1 of this international contingent after a bogey-free 67.  And fellow Solheim Cupper and former world #1 Stacy Lewis (71, -6) joined another group of globe-trotters, Amy Yang, Sandra Gal, and Pornanong Phatlum, all of whom posted 69s today.

There were also a lot of low rounds from lower down the leaderboard, from 68s by Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Mi Jung Hur that offset their opening 76s to 69s by Sun Young Yoo, Chella Choi, and Danielle Kang that moved them up to T20.  In fact, there were a bunch of 69s today from a diverse group of players like Juli Inkster, Alena Sharp, Kathleen Ekey, and Mi Hyang Lee.  But almost as many golfers went from good to worse, like Brittany Lang, whose 78 today (sparked by a pair of doubles on the front) dropped her right down to the cut line at +1, Mi Rim Lee, whose 77 left her 8 shots behind Rookie of the Year rival Lydia Ko after being down only 1 shot after 18 holes, yesterday's co-leader Meena Lee, whose 76 dropped her 9 off the lead, and Becky Morgan, who followed up yesterday's 70 with an 80 today to miss the cut.

With all these heroics and tragedies in the 1st 2 rounds of the LPGA's season opener, it's easy to overlook players who just kept plugging along, such as the big group at -5, whose scores ranged from 71 to 72:  Hee Young Park, Azahara Munoz, Brittany Lincicome, Candie Kung, Pernilla Lindberg, and Thidapa Suwannapura.  I was glad to see Morgan Pressel keep it at -3, Se Ri Pak and Birdie Kim get to -1, Ai Miyazato get her putter back under control and bring herself back to E, and Seon Hwa Lee and Tiffany Joh just barely make the cut.  I have to admit to being surprised that Lexi Thompson and Angela Stanford fall into this category, as I expected both to be going lower, while they're actually at E.  Lexi eagled the par-5 4th but made her 2nd double on the 9th hole in as many days, while Stanford continued to offset every good thing she did with an equal number of mistakes.  But I am glad to see Ayako Uehara (74, E) and Harukyo Nomura (74, +1) hanging in there right with them.  At least they have a chance to get hot on the weekend.

Not so for a bunch of good golfers, from Q-School record-setter Jaye Marie Green (77, +2) to defending champion Ilhee Lee (74, +2), from Hall of Famer Juli Inkster (72, +4) and veteran Moira Dunn (76, +4) to rookies Jennifer Kirby (73, +2) and Giulia Molinaro (75, +4).  Others didn't even come close, from rookies like Amy Anderson and Paula Reto to veterans like Pat Hurst and Jeong Jang to shockers like Beatriz Recari.

So with 2 players already double digits under par, I'm thinking unless the winds come up over the weekend those chasing them had better be -10 or better after 54 holes.  But it's hard for me to believe the winning score will be in the -20 to-22 range.  I'm thinking -15 to -18, which is already about 10 shots better than I expected.  The leaders have shown the birdies are out there.  Who will find the most?  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic Thursday: In with the Old, In with the New

Lydia Ko and Meena Lee share the 1st-round lead at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic as Golf Channel coverage ended.  Ko played with Stacy Lewis and Beatriz Recari and outplayed them both, sprinkling 6 birdies around her around while Lee started on the back 9, eagled the par-4 13th, and closed with 3 birdies in her last 7 holes to match Ko's 68.  Both 2-time LPGA winners finished -5 on the par 73 Ocean Club course, putting them 1 shot ahead of Lewis, Brittany Lang, veteran Candie Kung, and newbies P.K. Kongkraphan and Austin Ernst, while Na Yeon Choi, veteran Becky Morgan, and newbie Mo Martin were 2 shots back.

It's a great mix of youngsters, players in the prime of their careers, and newbies leading the tournament from the morning wave, all scoring much better than I expected.  The winds were down, but I give the players credit for starting the season sharp!  And Golf Channel, as well.  The funniest moment I've seen in their coverage in quite some time came after Lydia Ko's post-round interview, when they showed what happened right before it.  Lydia's mom was fixing her shirt collar and she gave a kind of low-level "Aww, mom...!" look for just a second.  Hilarious!

I'll have more later.  Time for me to head to Albany and get back to work.

[Update 1 (11:25 pm):  OK, made it to Albany and checked into the hotel with minimal drama (all self-inflicted stupidity).  Done with work.  Checking leaderboard.  Here are a few observations:

"Not So Fast, Lydia!"  Rookie Mi Rim Lee, my pick for #2 in the Class of '14, shot a bogey-free 69 in her 1st round as an LPGA member, sparked by 4 birdies in her last 7 holes.  Jaye Marie Green, my #5 pick, fired a bogey-free 33 on the front (her back) to finish with a 71.  Amy Anderson, my #4 pick, had it going early on but made back-to-back bogeys on the back (her front), then recovered, then doubled the 9th (her last hole) to settle for a 73.  (She shouldn't feel too bad about it; Lexi Thompson also suffered a walkoff double on the very same hole.)  Other rookies at E for the day included Line Vedel (my #8) and Megan Grehan (my #23).  Not a bad start!

Welcome Back, Golfer!  Great to see that Jennifer Song ('11er) made 4 birdies in her last 11 holes to post a 70, hitting every fairway and 16 greens.  Sweet walkoff eagle by Pernilla Lindberg ('10er) to match Song's -3 start, too.  Hopefully a sign of things to come this year for these much-heralded and much-struggling young prospects!  Also nice to see unheralded '12er Thidapa Suwannapura bounce back from a double on 10 with an eagle on 18 and join them at -3.  And unheralded '13er Paz Echeverria made 2 early and 2 late birdies to post a 70, too.  (Plus, recently underachieving Brittany Lincicome opened with a 6-birdie 70.)

Mo' Mo', Please!  No, this one isn't about Mo Martin, who continues to overachieve on the LPGA with a 6-birdie 70.  I'm talking about more momentum for recent winners Pornanong Phatlum and Sandra Changkija, who both opened with 71s today.

Two You'd Expect, Two You Wouldn't.  Hee Young Park and Jessica Korda opened with 69s, as did Amelia Lewis and Danah Bordner.  Ain't golf grand?  In all, 12 players broke 70 on the par-73 Ocean Club course.

Japan Watch.  Ai Miyazato struggled coming home with a birdieless 39 on the front (her back) to fall to +2/T77, Harukyo Nomura also made 3 bogeys on the front (also her back) to drop back to E/T38, and Ayako Uehara made a walkoff birdie to post a 72/T24.  The culprit for Ai-sama was her putter; despite hitting 17 greens, she took 37 putts!

Asian-American Watch.  From Monday qualifier Jenny Suh at -2 to Michelle Wie at -1 to Tiffany Joh, Danielle Kang, and Hannah Jun at E to Vicky Hurst at +1, it was a solid start to 2014 for a group that doesn't get much attention as a group.

Well, that's all I have time for today.  My hotel has Golf Channel, so maybe I'll catch a rerun of round 2....]

[Update 2 (1/24/13, 6:41 am):  Ruthless Mike is impressed by Lydia Ko.  To which I say, yeah, people were overreacting and concern trolling her last month, and she did have a great start to the season.  But it is just 1 round.  A very impressive round.  But there are going to be, like, 90 more....]

Prime-Time Pairings at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic

I'll be lucky enough to watch the 1st round of the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic on Golf Channel at my parents' home before I head out to Albany in the afternoon.  From the brief description of the Ocean Club on, it seems the players will have plenty of chances to dissolve the rust on their games in sea water.  As low as everyone went over 36 near-flooded holes last year, I'd be surprised if we had all that many all that far under par this week.

Here are my guesses as to who will prevail against the prevailing winds.  And here are my favorite pairings for today's opening round!

10th tee, 12:20 pm:  Ai Miyazato, Paula Creamer, Jessica Korda
1st tee, 7:20 am:  Moira Dunn, Jaclyn Sweeney, Erica Popson
10th tee, 12:30 pm:  Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson, Gerina Piller
1st tee, 8:10 am:  Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko, Beatriz Recari
1st tee, 8:20 am:  Na Yeon Choi, Michelle Wie, Sandra Gal
1st tee, 12:10 pm:  Angela Stanford, Pornanong Phatlum, Pernilla Lindberg
1st tee, 12:00 pm:  Hee Young Park, Ayako Uehara, Dewi Claire Schreefel
10th tee, 8:00 am:  Jeong Jang, Meena Lee, Danielle Kang
10th tee, 12:10 pm:  Juli Inkster, Brittany Lincicome, Lizette Salas
1st tee, 12:30 pm:  Pat Hurst, Amy Yang, Chella Choi

Who are your favorites?  Who would you be following if you could be at Paradise Island instead of wherever you are?  (For me, the temperature dropped from 9 to -2 during yesterday's drive from Hamburg to Clinton....  Gotta love finally getting a real winter around here!)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Saw My Brother Shake Annika's Hand on Golf Channel!

So if you happened to be watching Golf Channel when they showed Annika Sorenstam teeing off at the PGA Show this morning, you would have seen my brother, as well.  He was standing to her left, on the right side of the screen.  A little later, they replayed the shot and its aftermath, which included an instant of my brother shaking hands with Annika.  So cool!

I just happened to be heading to Albany tomorrow and decided to break the drive up by staying with my parents tonight in Clinton.  Of course, they have Golf Channel (unlike me) and they taped the program.  So it all came together.

Except for the claim he made in a rushed call on a bad connection that he was going to be on Feherty Live.  Maybe another night?

Anyway, if anyone notices Golf Channel has posted the video before I do, let me know in comments.  Thanks!

My Top 30 Predictions for the LPGA in 2014

I haven't run the LPGA Prognostication Derby since 2012 and I still don't have time to bring it back.  Basically it involved inviting everyone interested to compile a list of the 30 LPGA members who have the best chance of garnering Player of the Year honors in an upcoming season, ranked from most likely at #1 to least likely at #30 (least likely among an elite group of picks, that is).  This season, the only person I've seen venture predictions of this sort is Tony Jesselli.  As my final installment in my 2014 LPGA preview series, here are my projected top 30:

1. Suzann Pettersen
2. Stacy Lewis
3. Shanshan Feng
4. So Yeon Ryu
5. Lexi Thompson
6. Inbee Park
7. Na Yeon Choi
8. Lydia Ko
9. Amy Yang
10. Ai Miyazato
11. In-Kyung Kim
12. Caroline Hedwall
13. Paula Creamer
14. Azahara Munoz
15. Chella Choi
16. Angela Stanford
17. Beatriz Recari
18. Ya Ni Tseng
19. Hee Young Park
20. Carlota Ciganda
21. Jessica Korda
22. Anna Nordqvist
23. Sandra Gal
24. Morgan Pressel
25. Sun Young Yoo
26. Michelle Wie
27. Mika Miyazato
28. Cristie Kerr
29. Hee Kyung Seo
30. Karrie Webb 

The players most likely to make me regret leaving them off this list are, in rough order, Se Ri Pak, Catriona Matthew, Brittany Lincicome, Lizette Salas, Pornanong Phatlum, Gerina Piller, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Ilhee Lee, Brittany Lang, Jennifer Johnson, Karine Icher, Chie Arimura, Mi Rim Lee, Haeji Kang, Jenny Shin, Jane Park, Caroline Masson, Ayako Uehara, Mina Harigae, Vicky Hurst, and Danielle Kang.  So I guess this was really a top 51!  [Update (11:30 pm):  Thanks, Tony, for pointing out my Salas oversight!]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best on the LPGA without a Major: January 2014 Edition

In the next-to-last installment of my 2014 preview series, I'm going to depart from my usual practice in this ranking of the LPGA's best players without a major on tour.  In the past, I've tried to rerank the list for each LPGA major, using overall career performances, recent finishes, and histories at that major to try to predict who has the best odds of winning it.  I'll do that again this season for each major, but what I want to do now is survey who actually has had the best careers on the LPGA among those who have not yet won a major.

I'll be relying strongly on my career rankings spreadsheet and major rankings spreadsheet to do this, but the question is how to combine the ranking systems.  Is it better to have a proven record of winning over the course of your LPGA career but not yet have converted that into a major win or a history of near-misses in majors and in other tournaments?  To me, that's a judgment call, based on individual careers, so what I'll do is simply add together the points players have earned in each system to sort players into rough groups, then adjust rankings within each group based on head-to-head comparisons between the players in each of them.

[Note:  the numbers in parentheses following each player's name represent total LPGA victories/KLPGA-JLPGA-LET victories, points in my major ranking system (rank), points in my career ranking system (rank).]

Simply the Best

1. Ai Miyazato (9/17, 723 [#17], 2218 [#8]).  She's #1 in the Class of 2006, #4 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #5 in LPGA's Club 79 (those with 7 to 9 wins on tour).  Here are her best finishes in LPGA majors:
  • Kraft Nabisco Championship:  T15 (2007)
  • Wegmans LPGA Championship: T3 (2006 and 2010)
  • U.S. Women's Open:  T6 (2009 and 2011)
  • Ricoh Women's British Open:  T3 (2009)
  • Evian Championship:  T15 (2013) 
Of her 15 JLPGA victories, 2 came in majors, the Japan Women's Open in 2005 and the Konica Minolta Cup in 2006.  She's the clear #1 in this ranking.

2. In-Kyung Kim (3/1, 1047 [#10], 1759 [#10]).  She's #2 in the Class of 2007, #5 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #4 in the LPGA's Club 36 (those with 3 to 6 wins on tour).  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  2nd (2012)
  • LPGA:  T5 (2010)
  • USWO:  2nd (2013)
  • WBO:  T3 (2010)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Although she has a better record in majors than many major winners, she's had even more trouble closing the deal in them than in regular tournaments.  I have a feeling that once she finds the next oasis, it'll make finding ones after it that much easier.

The Contenders

3. Lexi Thompson (3/1, 446 [#32], 1842 [#9]).  She's #2 in the Class of 2012 and #2 in LPGA's Club 36.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T21 (2009)
  • LPGA:  T28 (2013)
  • USWO:  T10 (2010)
  • WBO:  T17 (2012)
  • Evian:  3rd (2013)
I'm ranking her ahead of the next 2 players in this category, despite her comparatively weaker record in majors, because she's rocketed up the career rankings so fast I can't help but think she's due to set career bests in majors in 2014.

4. Amy Yang (1/4, 731 [#15], 1239 [#17]):  She's #5 in the Class of 2008, #8 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #1 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T4 (2012)
  • LPGA:  T5 (2013)
  • USWO:  2nd (2012)
  • WBO:  4th (2011)
  • Evian:  T67 (2013)
I'm ranking her ahead of Michelle Wie because the vast majority of her best finishes in majors have come much more recently Wie's and Yang won a KLPGA major in 2011.

5. Michelle Wie (2/0, 728 [#16], 1359 [#14]).  She's #4 in the Class of 2009, #4 in the LPGA's New Blood generation, and #7 among the LPGA's 2-time winners.  Her best finishes in majors mostly date back from before she joined the LPGA:
  • KNC:  T3 (2006)
  • LPGA:  2nd (2005)
  • USWO:  T3 (2006)
  • WBO:  T3 (2005)
  • Evian:  T37 (2013)
Her performances in majors since joining the LPGA have perhaps been the biggest source of disappointment in her professional career to date.  To have come so close to winning so many times and then approach a decade without coming that close again is shocking to the average sports fan.

6. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11, 546 [#24], 1259 [#16]):  She's #1 in the Class of 2011, #5 among the LPGA's New Blood, and #6 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T4 (2012)
  • LPGA:  T34 (2011)
  • USWO:  2nd (2011)
  • WBO:  T5 (2010)
  • Evian:  T64 (2013)
In addition to her strong performances in most every LPGA major, she won 3 KLPGA majors in 2009.  So she's definitely got it in her to do even better in 2014.

7. Mika Miyazato (1/2, 488 [#30], 1227 [#18]):  She's #5 in the Class of 2011, #6 among the LPGA's New Blood, and #5 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T7 (2011)
  • LPGA:  T2 (2012)
  • USWO:  5th (2011)
  • WBO:  4th (2012)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Both her JLPGA victories have come at the most important major on their schedule, the Japan Women's Open, so she's another player I'd say is due to do even better in LPGA majors,

8. Hee Young Park (2/6, 473 [#31], 1127 [#23]).  She's #4 in the Class of 2008, #11 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #3 among the LPGA's 2-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T7 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T14/14th (2011 and 2012)
  • USWO:  T9 (2009)
  • WBO:  T2 (2013)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
As much as she improved on her record in LPGA majors in 2013, I expect her to do even better in 2014.

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Lydia Ko (2/2, 684 [#19], n.a. [n.r.]).  She's the universal favorite for 2014 Rookie of the Year and already done surprisingly well in majors, most notably in the Evian Championship last year.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T25 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T17 (2013)
  • USWO:  T36 (2013)
  • WBO:  T17 (2012)
  • Evian:  2nd (2013)
Frankly, I'd be shocked if she didn't improve on her peak performances in 4 of the 5 LPGA majors in 2014.  No pressure, eh?

10. Angela Stanford (5/0, 585 [#22], n.a. [n.r.]).  She's the only LPGA veteran with a strong enough record to make it into this category.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T3 (2010)
  • LPGA:  T4 (2004)
  • USWO:  T2 (2003)
  • WBO:  T13 (2002)
  • Evian:  T6 (2013)
You might be tempted to think "what have you done for me lately?" when it comes to Stanford's record in LPGA majors, but you'd be dead wrong.  She has 7-straight top-20 finishes in the KNC, she's finished in the top 35 in the LPGA Championship in 10 of her last 11 starts (with another top 5 in 2009), she got a top 10 in the USWO in 2005 and top 5s in 2 of her last 3 starts, and she's got top 25s in the WBO in 4 of her last 5 starts.  I'm sure if I extended my ranking system back to the Class of 2001 and the LPGA generation that bears her name, she'd be even higher on this list!

11. Azahara Munoz (1/2, 297 [#44], 1181 [#21]).  She's #2 in the Class of 2010, #7 in the New Blood Generation, and #2 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T15 (2012)
  • LPGA:  T8 (2011)
  • USWO:  T19 (2010)
  • WBO:  T19 (2010)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Even though she's underperformed in majors, she has a strong overall record and is on something of a roll again.  I expect her to set career high-water marks in most all of the 2014 majors.

12. Brittany Lang (1/0, 542 [#25], 937 [#30]).  She's #6 in the Class of 2006, #16 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #8 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T6 (2006)
  • LPGA:  T18 (2008)
  • USWO:  T2 (2005)
  • WBO:  2nd (2011)
  • Evian:  T57 (2013)
The KNC is definitely her most consistent major, as she finished in the top 21 between 2006 and 2010, but even there she's been inconsistent of late.  Still, she can contend out of nowhere, as she did as an amateur at the USWO in 2005 and as a pro in 2010 and 2013, as well as at the 2011 WBO.

13. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3, 245 [#52], 1224 [#20]).  Even with her pronounced slump of recent years, her career stats actually remain quite strong.  Her best finishes:

  • KNC:  5th (2008)
  • LPGA:  T10 (2008)
  • USWO:  T25 (2007)
  • WBO:  T14 (2008)
  • Evian:  DNP (2013)

You can tell how bad her slump has been by the fact that she hasn't made a cut in a major since the KNC in 2012 and has missed it in 8 of 11 starts in majors dating back to 2010.  Even worse, she failed to even qualify for 4 of the last 6 majors.  Imagine how much higher she'd be ranked if she hadn't fallen off the career cliff and instead been simply mediocre the last few seasons!

14. Beatriz Recari (3/1, 177 [#60], 1164 [#22]):  She's #1 in the Class of 2010, #8 in the New Blood Generation, and #3 in Club 36.  Her best finishes:

  • KNC:  T25 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T19 (2013)
  • USWO:  T27 (2011)
  • WBO:  T26 (2012)
  • Evian:  T9 (2013)

You can tell how well she's been playing in the last few years by how recent her career bests in majors have been, but she's still underperforming in majors compared to her achievements in regular tournaments.  Let's see if her 1st career top 10 in her latest start in LPGA major is a harbinger of better things to come in 2014.

15. Jee Young Lee (1/1, 421 [#34], 1008 [#27]).  She's #5 in the Class of 2006, #15 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #11 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  And that's despite a slump that's been only a little shorter and shallower than her fellow Lee in the '06ers.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T13 (2007)
  • LPGA:  T10 (2007)
  • USWO:  7th (2007)
  • WBO:  T2 (2007)
  • Evian:  WD (2013)
She's failed to finish 7 of the last 9 majors she started and missed out on qualifying for 4 others during that stretch, which dates back to 2011.  Even though she's started to pull out of her slump in regular tournaments, she hasn't cracked the top 30 in an LPGA major since the 2010 USWO.  Let's see if she can turn things around in 2014.

The Best of the Rest

16. Caroline Hedwall (0/5, 329 [#41], 997 [#28]).
17. Lizette Salas (0/0, 360 [#38], 969 [#29).
18. Jessica Korda (1/0, 195 [#57], 862 [#31]).
19. Chella Choi (0/0, 366 [#37], 783 [#33]).
20. Sandra Gal (1/0, 295 [#46], 730 [#37]).
21. Julieta Granada (1/0, 280 [#47], 754 [#36]).
22. Kristy McPherson (0/0, 427 [#33], 604 [#44]).
23. Meena Lee (2/4, 174 [#61], 851 [#32]).
24. Jodi Ewart Shadoff (0/0, 303 [#43], 663 [#41]).  
25. Ilhee Lee (1/0, 240 [#53], 726 [#38]).
26. Jennifer Johnson (1/0, 247 [#52], 688 [#40]).
27. Caroline Masson (0/1, 334 [#40], 582 [#47]).
28. Carlota Ciganda (0/3, 121 [#66], 768 [#34]).
29. Gerina Piller (0/0, 184 [#59], 692 [#39]).
30. Ayako Uehara (0/3, 280 [#49], 522 [#50]).
31. Jenny Shin (0/0, 151 [#63], 638 [#42]).
32. Haeji Kang (0/0, 218 [#54], 548 [#49]).
33. Chie Arimura (0/13, 253 [#50], 502 [#52]).
34. Pornanong Phatlum (0/2, 110 [#67], 604 [#44]).
35. Vicky Hurst (0/0, 147 [#65], 506 [#51]).
36. Katie Futcher (0/0, 262 [#49], 382 [#59]).
37. Jane Park (0/0, 167 [#72], 475 [#54]).
38. Moriya Jutanugarn (0/0, 143 [#65], 489 [#53]).
39. Natalie Gulbis (1/1, 502 [#28], n.a. [n.r.]).
40. Candie Kung (4/0, 496 [#29], n.a. [n.r.]).

So that's my top 40.  Who would you add to this list, and where?  How would you suggest reordering it?  What do you think of my way of combining my 2 ranking systems?

My Picks for the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic

The LPGA's 2014 campaign starts tomorrow, so here are my picks for the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic:

1. Lewis, Stacy
2. Ko
3. Phatlum
4. Thompson
5. Choi Na Yeon
6. Miyazato Ai
7. Recari
8. Stanford
9. Creamer
10. Yang, Amy
11. Gal
12. Munoz

Alts: Choi Chella; Salas; Park Hee Young

I got my picks in 1st in the 1st PakPicker competition of 2014 over at Seoul  You can compare mine to Tony Jesselli's.  Hoping luck is on my side!  (Although I'm hoping more for an Ai-sama victory!)

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Best in LPGA Majors Since 2000, January 2014 Edition

As part of my 2014 preview series, I've been preparing an update of my June 2013 predictions on who was most likely to break through for their 1st LPGA major last season.  I'll post a rather modified version of that update tomorrow, but along the way I got interested in developing a formula to get a rough sense of who's performed best in LPGA majors since the Women's British Open became the tour's 4th major in 2001--and I thought I'd share the spreadsheet based on it with everyone today.  It's basically a modification of my career ranking system of the LPGA's rookie classes from 2005 to 2013.  Its core idea is to reward both consistency and peak performances, with a special bonus for being able to win more than one major.

Here's how my major ranking formula works.  As in my career ranking formula, I determine how often players win, finish in the top 3, top 10, and top 20, and avoid WDs, DQs, and MCs in LPGA majors, and I turn those rates into points as follows:  each percentage point in winning rate is worth 32 points, each in top-3 rate is worth 16, each in top-10 rate is worth 8, each in top-20 rate is worth 4, and each in finish rate is worth 1.  Instead of keeping track of career winnings and winnings per start and finish, however, I instead assign points to career best finishes in each of the LPGA's 5 majors:  whereas a player earns 100 points each time she wins a major, the maximum points she can earn for non-winning high water marks are 50 for a silver medal, 40 for a bronze, 30 for 4th place, 25 for 5th place, 20 for 6th- through 10th-place finishes, and 10 for 11th- through 20th-place finishes.  The other big difference from my career ranking formula is that players can earn points in this one for every LPGA major they competed in, whether or not they were members of the LPGA at the time (only non-member wins are counted in my other system, which, after all, focuses on LPGA careers).

This results in the following ranking:

Simply the Best

1. Ya Ni Tseng (2201)
2. Inbee Park (1922)

The Contenders

3. Lorena Ochoa (1569)
4. So Yeon Ryu (1530)
5. Stacy Lewis (1502)
6. Ji-Yai Shin (1490)

The Next Best

7. Suzann Pettersen (1367)
8. Na Yeon Choi (1213)
9. Paula Creamer (1169)
10. In-Kyung Kim (1047)
11. Morgan Pressel (1019)

Quantum Leap Candidates

12. Grace Park (795)
13. Eun-Hee Ji (788)
14. Anna Nordqvist (772)
15. Amy Yang (731)
16. Michelle Wie (728)
17. Ai Miyazato (723)
18. Brittany Lincicome (703)

The Best of the Rest

19. Lydia Ko (684)
20. Angela Park (664)
21. Song-Hee Kim (621)
22. Angela Stanford (585)
23. Shanshan Feng (573)
24. Hee Kyung Seo (546)
25. Brittany Lang (542)
26. Jeong Jang (533)
27. Sun Young Yoo (518)
28. Natalie Gulbis (502)
29. Candie Kung (496)
30. Mika Miyazato (488)
31. Hee Young Park (473)
32. Lexi Thompson (446)
33. Kristy McPherson (427)
34. Jee Young Lee (421)
35. Lindsey Wright (388)
36. Christina Kim (370)
37. Chella Choi (366)
38. Lizette Salas (360)
39. Hee-Won Han (357)
40. Caroline Masson (334)
41. Caroline Hedwall (329)
42. Katherine Hull-Kirk (304)
43. Jodi Ewart Shadoff (303)
44. Azahara Munoz (297)
45. Meaghan Francella (296)
46. Sandra Gal (295)
T47. Ayako Uehara, Julieta Granada (280)
49. Katie Futcher (262)
50. Chie Arimura (253)

It's interesting to see who performs better in majors than regular events and vice versa.  More in this vein tomorrow, with a focus on those who haven't yet won a LPGA major!

The Best on the LPGA: The Winless, January 2014 Edition

As part of my 2014 preview series, it's time I updated last November's ranking of the players most likely to make like Teresa Lu and get their 1st LPGA win this coming season.

Most Likely to Win in 2014

1. Caroline Hedwall:  A heroine of the Solheim Cup and a 5-time winner on the LET, I can't picture anyone winning on the LPGA before Hedwall does.  She's my #2-ranked player in the LPGA's Class of 2011 and had the best 2013 of all of them.  As the top "quantum leap candidate" in her "New Blood" generation on the LPGA, I expect 2014 will be the year she makes that leap.
2. Chella Choi:  She's really ramped up her game in recent years and has had a handful of memorable close calls, including at the Mizuno, during a run of great play at the end of 2013 that capped off her best season yet on tour.  Don't be fooled by her #6 ranking in the LPGA's Class of 2009--they're a deep class and she had the 2nd-best 2013 of them all.  All she needs is a week when her putter gets hot to win.
3. Carlota Ciganda:  A comeback kid during the Solheim Cup, a 3-time winner on the LET, a member of the LPGA's Spanish Armada, and the #4-ranked player in the LPGA's Class of 2012, I think she has the chops to win on the LPGA soon.  She closed out 2013 with top 30s in 6 of her last 8 starts, including top 20s in half of her solid finishes, so she's on the verge of putting it all together.  Despite disappointing performance stats over the course of the entire season, she contended in North Texas and got a T6 in Australia.
4. Lizette Salas:  She's made an immediate impact as she's transitioned from collegiate golf to the Symetra Tour to the LPGA, with several close calls of her own, and a #3 ranking among the '12ers.  Even though she has a few more mental scars than Ciganda, I can't help but think she's ready to break through soon!

The Contenders

5. Pornanong Phatlum:  Anyone who can finish last LPGA season with 2 top 5s in a row, chase down and defeat Stacy Lewis in Dubai at the end of 2013 and take her 2nd worldwide title in a row in Taiwan at the start of 2014 deserves to move up this list, and that's just what Phatlum has done.  If she can keep riding this hot streak, she may make me wish I moved her higher up it!
6. Gerina Piller:  The #4-ranked player in the LPGA's Class of 2010 gets top 10s as often as anyone on this list, but like Salas she's had some good chances slip through her fingers, most recently at the Titleholders at the end of last season.  That runner-up finish was her 7th top 10 of 2013, but if she can improve her putting in 2014, I expect her to set a career standard for herself this season.
7. Jodi Ewart Shadoff:  The #5 player among the '11ers was sabotaged by average putting in 2013.  If she can improve in that 1 area in 2014, watch out for her!  She closed out 2013 with top 30s in 8 of her last 12 starts, highlighted by top 5s at the U.S. Women's Open and Marathon Classic, a T10 at the Canadian Women's Open, and a T12 at the KEB HanaBank in Korea, so she's got both momentum and experience near the top of the leaderboard on her side.
8. Karine Icher:  This 5-time winner on the LET sprinkled 5 top 10s fairly evenly across the 2013 LPGA season, with 3 top 5s in the middle of it capped off by a silver at the CWO, but she hasn't won on a major tour since 2005.  Can she make like Teresa Lu and break through after a long drought?

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Chie Arimura:  She's had a truly horrendous rookie season on the LPGA, but this 13-time winner on the JLPGA is too good to continue playing this badly outside Japan.
10. Mi Rim Lee:  I've picked her as Lydia Ko's most likely challenger for Rookie of the Year this season, but it all depends on how this 3-time winner on the KLPGA transitions into the LPGA.
11. Haeji Kang:  I used to think of her as a player of the same rank as Chella Choi, but she really needs to pick up the pace to catch up to her now.
12. Jenny Shin:  She had a solid 2013, with 7 top 20s and a top 5 at Mobile Bay, so I look for her to keep improving in 2014.
13. Jane Park:  In 2013, she was healthy for what seems like the 1st time in her professional career, and responded with 2 top 10s and 6 top 25s, so I wouldn't be surprised to see her improve even further and faster in 2014.
14. Caroline Masson:  For someone who missed out on LPGA Rookie of the Year by a single point but who is my own top-ranked player in the Class of 2013, she didn't have that many great finishes last season.  I'm looking for more from her in 2014.
15. Ayako Uehara:  Yes, she's won 3 times on the JLPGA and made the transition to the LPGA slightly better than Arimura, but I just don't see as much upside to her 2014 as I do to Arimura's.
16. Mina Harigae:  She rocked the minor leagues, but hasn't yet translated that into a whole lot of success on the LPGA.
17. Vicky Hurst:  Another player who dominated the minor leagues but hasn't yet played up to expectations on the LPGA.
18. Danielle Kang:  A T5 at the HSBC Women's Champions shows what this 2-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion is capable of on the LPGA.
19. Moriya Jutanugarn:  The 2013 ROY hasn't impressed me with a capacity to make birdies in bunches or go low, two qualities that are crucial to winning on the toughest women's tour on the planet.
20. Xiyu Lin:  I'm high on this Chinese teenage rookie.
21. Harukyo Nomura:  Although she entered the LPGA as an '11er, 2014 will be her 1st full season the the LPGA, which she chose over the JLPGA, where she was a top-30 finisher on their 2013 money list.
22. Alison Walshe:  She came on strong at the end of 2013, with a T6 in Malaysia, a T17 in Korea, and a T21 in Taiwan.
23. Amy Anderson:  I'm thinking the winningest woman in NCAA history has what it takes to make a smoother transition to the LPGA than other top collegiate prospects in recent years.
24. Austin Ernst:  She had an all right rookie season in 2013; I expect her to do much better in 2014.
25. Jaye Marie Green:  Anyone who breaks the Q-School scoring record deserves serious consideration, but she may find it hard to bottle that magic over the course of an entire season.

The Best of the Rest

26. Giulia Sergas
27. Mo Martin
28. Mariajo Uribe
29. Lisa McCloskey
30. Dewi Claire Schreefel
31. Pernilla Lindberg
32. Sydnee Michaels
33. Giulia Molinaro
34. Katie Burnett
35. Ashleigh Simon
36. Yueer Cindy Feng
37. Christel Boeljon
38. Belen Mozo
39. Ryann O'Toole
40. Tiffany Joh

So who did I undervalue?  Who did I leave out?  Who do you think will be the 1st to graduate from this list?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Breaking News: JLPGA's Ah-Reum Hwang Appears to Have Killed a Pedestrian

The Japanese media are reporting that on January 19th, 7-year JLPGA member Ah-Reum Hwang was involved in a car accident in Kanagawa Prefecture after which an elderly pedestrian died.  Not too many details have been released, but it appears she struck a 90-year-old man--Mamoru Sakurada, who had left the JR Ninomiya station, headed home on foot--while driving from a restaurant to her hotel.  She contacted the authorities and told them she noticed the pedestrian too late to react.  Hwang has been competing in a pro-am tournament in the area, but was arrested at the scene of the accident.

The Best on the LPGA: 1-Time Winners, January 2014 Edition

There's only been 1 new 1-time winner on the LPGA since my last ranking last October, but Teresa Lu decided not to rejoin the LPGA in 2014 despite having the opportunity to do so after taking the Mizuno title.  So as part of my 2014 preview series, it's time to reshuffle this list based on who's most likely to graduate from it this coming season--and Lu will be near the bottom.

Most Likely to Win in 2014

1. Amy Yang:  The #5-ranked player in the Class of 2008 found something at the end of 2013, not just with her breakthrough win in Korea, but with 5-straight finishes inside the top 11, too.  I don't know if it was her putter getting hot or her ball-striking improving or both, but I know if she keeps playing this season like she did last she's going to win again on the LPGA soon.  She's entered in the Bahamas, Thailand, and Singapore, so we'll see what state her game is very soon!
2. Azahara Munoz:  After a fantastic 2012, 2013 was pretty disappointing for the now-#2 player in the Class of 2010 until she finished 2nd, T7, and T14 to close out the season.  My guess is she figured out something about putting, which had been holding her back all year.  She's definitely excited about something, as she's entered all 4 of the opening events on the LPGA schedule.
3. Jessica Korda:  The #3-ranked player in the Class of 2011 had a really good 2013, turning herself into a player you're no longer surprised to see high on the leaderboard.  And she has a history of playing well at the start of the season.  So I'm expecting good things from her as she globe-trots her way through the LPGA's 1st 4 events of 2014.  [Update 1 (1/26/14, 8:22 pm):  Well, that was quick!]

The Contenders

4. Sandra Gal:  She really turned 2013 around in the last third of the season, when she finished inside the top 30 in her last 9 starts, capped off by a 4th-place finish at the Titleholders.  If she keeps her putter hot in 2014, watch out for her!  She obviously thinks so, too, as she's entered all 4 of the LPGA's season-opening events.
5. Mika Miyazato:  The #5-ranked player in the Class of 2009 played best on the LPGA in the middle of 2013, but got her 2nd JLPGA victory (and 2nd in 4 years at the Japan Women's Open) in October, so even though her results were unimpressive during the tour's Asian swing, I'm not discounting her chances in 2014.  As terribly as she putted in the 1st half of the season, getting her putts per green in regulation average down to almost 1.84 was a major victory in itself in the 2nd half of 2013.  Her 2014 starts in Thailand.
6. Hee Kyung Seo:  She won as a non-member at the 2010 Kia Classic, easily won the 2011 Rookie of the Year race despite her failure to secure her 1st LPGA major at the U.S. Women's Open (where she lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu), and came this close to graduating from this list when Yang beat her with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 1st playoff hole in Korea, but she now has 4 playoff losses on the LPGA and only 10 other top 10s in 3 full seasons, so the chances are coming few and far between and she hasn't been able to take advantage of the ones she's gotten as an LPGA member.  She's got the talent to do it.  It's only a matter of when.  Her 1st chance in 2014 will come in Thailand.

The Next Best

7. Ilhee Lee:  The #3 player in the Class of 2010 is on the rise, finishing in the top 30 in 6 of her last 7 starts of 2013, including a T3 in Malaysia.  She starts 2014 as the defending champion of the season-opener, skips Australia, then plays in Thailand and Singapore.
8. Brittany Lang:  She's another player who started 2013 on the wrong side of the bed and woke up during the 2nd half of the season, but she never surpassed her T7 at the U.S. Women's Open.  If she can start making birdies at an elite rate again, she will improve on those results in 2014.  But that's a pretty big if.  She's starting 2014 like Yang and Lee, so we'll soon see what she figured out over the off-season.
9. Jennifer Johnson:  The #4 player among the '11ers had 3 top 10s and 5 top 20s after her surprise win in Mobile last season, so she's definitely for real.  If she can continue making incremental improvements in her game, especially her putting, she should earn her way onto the 2015 Solheim Cup team.  She's playing the same 3 opening events of 2014 as the others in this group, so we'll get an early indication of how she's playing.

Quantum Leap Candidates

10. 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.  She had 3 top 10s in 2012 but only 1 in 2013.  She says she's healthy, so I'm keeping her tops among the quantum leap candidates, but it looks like she's taking an extended honeymoon and won't start 2014 until the LPGA comes to the States.
11. Jee Young Lee:  It looks to me like the once-elite '06er got hurt in fall 2010 but whatever the reason she was in free fall until 2013, which wasn't very good by her usual standards but at least included a top-5 finish for the 1st time in a long time and inclusion on the fall Asian swing.  Strangely, she's not entered in any of the LPGA's 1st 4 events of 2014.
12. Mi Jung Hur:  Her struggles since getting her 1st LPGA win as a rookie in 2009 are by no means over, but she hung in there last season despite some uncharacteristically poor putting by her high standards and got a surprise T8 in Taiwan.  She's playing the LPGA's 1st 2 events, so we'll see if she can build on that late 2013 finish early in 2014.
13. Julieta Granada:  She's back to being a regular on the LPGA after spending a lot of time on the LET in recent years, but didn't do much in 2013 after notching back-to-back top 10s as part of a run of 6 top 25s in 8 starts in the middle of the season.  Let's see if she can build on her T17 in Japan when she kicks off 2014 in the Bahamas.
14. Nicole Castrale: She had shoulder surgery in 2010 and hip surgery in September 2013, but is signed up for Thailand to start the new LPGA season.  Despite her injury issues and limited schedule last season, she finished 2013 #59 on the money list, so don't count her out in 2014!

On the Bottom, Looking Up

15. 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.  My junior golf buddy's been struggling to keep her card each year since the 2006 season, and once again in 2013 she failed to add to her 23 career LPGA top 10s.  But she's still got full status for 2014, her 20th season on tour.  Here's hoping she makes it special!
16. 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.  But despite a terrible 2013, she finished T13 at Q-School and will be back to try, try again in 2014.

On the Outside, Looking In

17. Teresa Lu:  I'm still shocked that she didn't try out dual LPGA-JLPGA membership in 2014 after winning the 2013 Mizuno Classic, but let's see if she can build on last season on the JLPGA, where she finished 3rd on their money list.  The 1st time we'll see her compete in 2014 will be in Singapore.
18. 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. Of her 17 career top 10s since she started on the LPGA in 2001, only 2 have come after 2005. Now she's playing full-time on the JLPGA, where she got her 1st win in her 3rd full season on tour.
19. Young Kim:  She joined the JLPGA in 2010 and ended up ranked 14th on tour in my system; the next 2 seasons, she's finished in the mid-30s on the season-ending money lists; in 2013, she finished at #40.
20. Shi Hyun Ahn:  Like Jee Young Lee, 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, with only 3 of them coming since the end of the 2007 season. Until 2011, that is, when she fell off a cliff. It may have been injuries, but probably it was love. The golfer known as "Cinderella" got married to Argentine-Korean star Mario in November 2011, but has been in the news lately in Korea with stories of domestic abuse.  Apparently, she's trying to restart her career on the KLPGA.
21. 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.  And her performance ever since hasn't been all that impressive (perhaps due to injury issues of her own).  But things went from mediocre to worse in 2013, where she played in 14 events and won less than $10K.  She's only #139 on the Symetra Tour's 2014 Priority Status List, so it's unclear how much competitive golf she'll be playing this season.
22. 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 among the '06ers. Since then, she's decided to focus on the KLPGA and JLPGA
23. 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 saw her starts go down and her scoring average go up over the next 3 seasons. Since the fall of 2010, she's been focusing her efforts on the KLPGA.
24. Birdie Kim: For awhile, it seemed like 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, not to mention the serious injuries she sustained in a car accident years ago.  But her 2012 Symetra Tour and Q-School performance earned her only 2 LPGA starts in 2013, both missed cuts, and she ended up #41 on the 2013 Symetra Tour money list, so she's back there in 2014.
25. Eunjung Yi:  Her playoff victory over Morgan Pressel at the Farr in 2009 remains her only LPGA top 10 since her LPGA career began in 2008. She won Hound Dog's fluke victory of the year award that year, a dubious distinction. She barely played on the LPGA in 2012 and 2013 due to injuries, but didn't made a cut in either season and is now #249 on the LPGA's Priority Status List and #160 on the Symetra Tour's.

The Best on the LPGA: 2-Time Winners, January 2014 Edition

With Lydia Ko joining the ranks of the LPGA's 2-time winners, it's time to update my ranking from last March and offer up my latest best guesses as to who's most likely to enter "Club 36" (3-to-6-time winners on tour) in 2014!

Most Likely to Win in 2014

1. So Yeon Ryu:  The #1 player in the LPGA's Class of 2012 (yes, ahead of Lexi Thompson) is also my pick for 2-time LPGA winner most likely to get her 3rd in 2014.  She had 7 top 5s last season without a victory.  'Nuff said.
2. Lydia Ko:  Her 2013 stats for her limited LPGA schedule were world class:  70.413 scoring average, 4.04 birdies per round, 72% GIR, 1.736 putts per GIR!  (Even better than 2012's.)  I'm not saying she's guaranteed a win in 2014, but I don't think anyone would be surprised if she got 1 (or more)!
[Update 1 (1/26/14, 8:24 pm):  Let's leave a space here for Jessica Korda when I next redo this forward-looking ranking!]

The Contenders

3. Hee Young Park:  The #3 player in the Class of 2008 has the ability to win in bunches.  Even when she struggled after getting a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at various points in the middle of last season, she still managed to make it into the top 20 in 4 of her last 9 starts of 2013.  Will 2014 be the year that the Rocket truly harnesses her talent?
4. Anna Nordqvist:  Hound Dog claims her rookie season in 2009 was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall.  So it's astounding that the #3 player in the Class of 2009 has only 5 top 3s in her entire LPGA career.  Let's hope that changes soon--Sweden needs her at Solheim Cup strength if they're going to have a chance for the International Crown! [Update 2 (2/23/14, 1:13 pm):  Nice win for Anna in Thailand!]

The Next Best

5. Morgan Pressel:  The Class of 2006's #2 player notched a T3 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and a T4 at the Ricoh Women's British Open and finished last season with 5 top-25 finishes in her last 7 starts.  If she can improve her iron game in 2014, watch out for her!
6. Sun Young Yoo:  A straight shooter in the Cristie Kerr/Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang mold, this '06er struggled early in 2013 but closed with 6 top 25s in her last 7 starts, including 2 top 10s in a row at the very end of that run.  Maybe she's ready to raise the level of her game in 2014 beyond the little plateau she's been on the last couple of seasons.
7. Michelle Wie:  We may look back at the 2013 Solheim Cup as that long-awaited turning point in her LPGA career.  She notched a couple of top 10s and another top 20 in the run-up to it, then followed it up with a T3 in Korea as part of an end-of-season run that included 8-straight made cuts and 5-straight top-25 finishes.  That's enough for me to move her a lot closer to where she belongs on this list, or others.

Quantum Leap Candidates

8. Eun-Hee Ji:  Which is a better predictor of her 2014 chances--her 4th-place finish in Taiwan or her 63rd-place finish at the Titleholders?  After a great run to start the 2012 season, the #3 player in the Class of 2007 has been quite inconsistent, with only 3 top 20s in all of 2013.  She needs to hit more greens to improve on that stat in 2014.
9. Meena Lee:  Her approach shots and putting haven't been as accurate the last 3 seasons as is usual for her, but she still was able to go on a run in the lead-up to the Women's British Open that included a 4th-place finish at the Manulife, a 7th-place finish at the Marathon, and a T11 at the WBO.  Let's see what 2014 has in store for her.
10. Katherine Hull-Kirk:  She never was able to improve on the T8 that opened her 2013 season, although she did have a T15 at the Evian Championship.  Let's see if she can turn things around in 2014.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

11. Jeong Jang:  It's definitely been taking her awhile to get back in the swing of things since coming back from maternity leave in 2012 after taking all of 2011 off.  Her only bright spot in 2013 was an out-of-nowhere top 5 at the ShopRite.  Here's hoping little Seul Samantha allows her mama enough practice time in 2014 to return to the form that put her regularly in contention before wrist injuries derailed her career.
12. Jimin Kang:  Her T13 at the RR Donnelley was a great start to her 2013, but it ended quickly due to injury and she's back in 2014 on a medical exemption.
13. Jennifer Rosales:  She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 20 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 for ages, although she did get 4 top 20s in the middle of last season.  Between injuries and bad golf, she's been missing more cuts than she's made since 2005, yet still hanging onto her card.  Let's see if she can put it all back together in 2014.
14. Ji Young Oh:  My doubts from February 2010--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list...."--have been right on target the last few years.  Her best finish last season was T35.
15. Karen Stupples:  This veteran and mother of 2 got back in shape in every respect but her golf game in 2013.  She'll get plenty of starts in 2014.  Let's see what she does with them this year!
16. Christina Kim:  The good news is, she got a couple of top 20s last season.  The bad news is, she's been in a prolonged slump with few other signs of coming out of it.
17. Laura Diaz:  She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter  has proven quite difficult. From 2009 to 2013, she found every aspect of the game challenging and is now hanging onto her card by the tips of her fingers, at #142 on the LPGA's 2014 Priority Status List.

On the Outside, Looking In

18. Momoko Ueda:  She'll be spending 2014 at least on the JLPGA.  Her 2 LPGA victories both came at the Mizuno Classic, so let's see if she can get a 2nd non-member win soon!
19. Carin Koch:  She notched 56 LPGA top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But she moved back to Sweden in 2009 and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events per season ever since. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET and finished 2013 at #75 on their Order of Merit in only 9 starts--but she's just not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.
20. Gloria Park:  I actually don't know if she's still playing full-time at home in Korea, but I assume so.

Over and Out

21. Stacy Prammanasudh:  Although she's listed at #65 on the priority status list, she retired at the Titleholders last season after a great career that included a Solheim Cup and $3.54M in winnings (she finished 2013 at #67 on the career money list).
22. Janice Moodie:  At #224 on the priority status list, this 3-time Solheim Cupper has ended her active career never having lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events.  Her last win came in 2002; she earned $3.68M overall and finished 2013 at #58 on the career money list.  (She did play twice last season and missed the cut both times, so maybe she'll get a start or 2 this season, as well.)