Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Best on the LPGA: Double-Digit Winners, January 2014 Edition

As part of my 2014 preview series, I'm updating my July 2013 ranking of the active golfers with 10 or more LPGA victories, arranged by their likelihood of winning this coming season.  The biggest change, of course, is Ji-Yai Shin's shocking decision to give up her LPGA membership for 2014, but Suzann Pettersen's accelerating rise and Ya Ni Tseng's continued slide are also big developments in the last 6 months.

[Note:  the numbers in parentheses indicate total LPGA wins and majors, respectively.]

Most Likely to Win in 2014

1. Suzann Pettersen (14/2):  I think 2014 will be Suzann's year.  She's come so close to so many end-of-season awards, not to mention to the #1 position in the Rolex Rankings, in recent years, that's she's both due and hot.  How hot?  She's coming off a run at the end of 2013 in which she finished inside the top 7 in 11 of her last 13 starts and notched 3 of last season's 4 victories.  This is the longest hot streak of her career and I don't see any signs of it ending.  She's 11 points away from qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame.  I wouldn't be surprised to see her cut that number in half by the end of 2014.  Or win in the Bahamas next week!

The Contenders

2. Karrie Webb (39/7):  I'd say it's a matter of when, not if, win #40 on the LPGA will come for this Hall of Famer.  She often plays well at the very start of the year, by the way, so don't be surprised if she's in the hunt at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, an event she's won 4 times, the last time in 2008.  Consider that during her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43).  In her near-20-year-long LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, only once had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (once when her scoring average rose above 71.50 for only the 3rd time in her career), and only 4 times failed to enter the winner's circle (in 2 of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd; in 2012, it was 3rd; for the other, it was 4th).  I see no reason that 2014 can't be as good or even better than 2013 for her.  If it's among her best, she has a chance to break the $20M barrier in career LPGA winnings this year! [Update 1 (2/18/14, 9:22 am):  Women's Australian Open?  Check!]
3. Cristie Kerr (16/2):  The last few years have seen historical streaks end for her.  2011 was her 1st season without a win since 2003.  Her run of consecutive million-dollar-seasons ended at 8 in 2012.  She failed to break the $1M barrier in 2013, as well, but did follow up her 2012 win at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational with a win at Kingsmill and broke the $15M barrier in career LPGA winnings.  Let's see if motherhood helps her to extend her winning streak to 3 straight seasons and board the million-dollar train again.

Quantum Leap Candidates

4. Ya Ni Tseng (15/5):  For a brief time in her career, she was an Annika/Lorena-style straight-up bomber, but lately she's been much more of a Michelle Wie-style wild bomber.  Still, problems with the driver can sometimes clear up quickly, when a new club or swing thought suddenly clicks.  So as bad as things have been looking for her lately, I'm thinking a win is still possible for her in 2014.  If she can get things going, she also has a chance to break the $10M barrier in career LPGA winnings this year.  And she's still only 4 points away from entering the LPGA Hall of Fame (once she completes 10 seasons on tour, that is).
5. Se Ri Pak (25/5):  The Hall of Famer finished 2013 with 3 top 10s in her last 4 starts, but sat out the CME Group Titleholders, raising fears about the shoulder injury that's been plaguing her the last few seasons.  It's gotten to the point that it's hard to remember that from 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all.  She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!).  She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch.  She hasn't been nearly that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 LPGA Championship, became a 5-time winner of the Farr (now Marathon) in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and got her 25th career win at the Bell Micro in 2010.  The question for 2014 is not just whether she can break through again, but how serious her shoulder injury really is and how much longer it will permit her to play on the LPGA.  She's signed up to play in the Bahamas, so we'll get an early look at the shape of her game and shoulder!

On the Bottom, Looking Up

6. Juli Inkster (31/7):  Her best event in 2013, a top-15 finish, was in NW Arkansas, but her performance stats remained fairly solid and she'll be able to play as many events as she wants to in 2014 from #70 on the priority status list.  If she has a good year, she can break the $14M barrier in career LPGA winnings.  It all starts for her in the Bahamas.
7. Laura Davies (20/4):  She gained a little distance in 2013, but continued her 4-season trend of bad putting.  Until she gets the flat stick working, those last 2 Hall of Fame points she needs are looking further and further out of reach.  She should get plenty of starts from #153 on the priority status list, so let's see what she does with them.

On the Outside, Looking In

8. Ji-Yai Shin (11/2):  Even though she's left the LPGA for 2014, she remains the 2nd-ranked player in my career evaluation system.  She'll need to win an LPGA event she happens to enter for her 2014 results to count toward her career totals.

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