Monday, January 20, 2014

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?

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