Thursday, November 30, 2006

Top 20 – 2006 Final Ranking

The 2006 season is history. Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time watching and analyzing the players, as well as making various tweaks to my rating method. Annika Sorenstam has been the most dominant player of the last several years, perhaps even of all time. However, the performance of Lorena Ochoa over the entire season not only warranted the Rolex Player Of The Year award but also is worthy of the first annual Hound Dog Player Of The Year honor. I’m sure Lorena will be speechless should she ever hear about this selection.

As usual, I’ve ranked the Top 20 players using a combination of my points rating method and subjective analysis. As I mentioned, I’ve tweaked the system a bit since the last rankings, mostly to give a higher ceiling to a player with multiple victories. Since these are my final rankings of the year, I thought I would go into more detail on each player so this post will only contain synopses on Players 1-5. The remainder of the Top 20 will follow shortly and as the off-season continues I will write up some other players as well. The player’s previous ranking is in parentheses.

#1 Lorena Ochoa (2)
Six victories, Leading Money Winner, Vare Trophy winner for having the lowest scoring average, 20 Top 10s in 25 starts, no missed cuts – sounds like a Player Of The Year to me! Her worst performance was T42 in June at ShopRite. That was the only event after March (covering 21 starts) she finished out of the Top 20, and one of only two she was out of the Top 11. In those 21 tournaments she finished in the Top 5 SIXTEEN times. The only thing missing from this outstanding season is a major but as I said at the end of the Mitchell TOC, the last thing her competitors need is for Ochoa to have the motivation of winning a major carrying her next season.

#2 Karrie Webb (3)
While putting Ochoa at #1 turned out to be an easier decision than I thought it would’ve been a few weeks ago, I had to wrestle quite a bit to answer “Who’s #2?”. Annika’s scoring average and Top 10 percentage are better, but Karrie won five times to Annika’s three (each with one major). They both missed one cut but while Annika makes the Top 10 almost every week, Karrie wins the tournament 38% the time she’s in the Top 10 (5 out of 13). What swayed my final decision was, Karrie only played one more event than Annika to get those two extra wins.

#3 Annika Sorenstam (1)
Three wins (the US Open included), second in scoring average, 16 Top 10s in 20 starts. At the beginning of October I was still giving her credit for 2005 and beyond but a couple of heads-up defeats (Kerr in Tulsa, Ochoa at Samsung) on top of the stats piled up by Ochoa and Webb have forced me to move the Ice Queen down. Her laser-beam iron play just wasn’t quite there this year and that put more pressure on her putting. It’ll be awhile before the competition stops looking to see where Annika is on the Sunday leaderboard, but she has some work to do to get back to being Number One.

#4 Cristie Kerr (4)
Three wins, third in scoring, fifth on the money list, no missed cuts. 18 Top 10s in 26 starts. Since getting her first win in 2002, Cristie has gotten at least a little better every year (with her biggest jump coming in ’04). This year’s improvements – one extra win, Top 10 percentage jumped from 50 to 69 and two fewer missed cuts. The logical step for 2007 would be a major victory.

#5 Juli Inkster (6)
A tie for second at the Mitchell TOC and Kimmie’s recent woes locked up this slot for Juli. In 2005 this Hall-Of-Famer had fallen all the way to 24th on the money list and looked to be sliding into retirement mode. Not so fast, my friend! She collected her 31st career victory (and first since 2003) at the Safeway in March, finished fifth in scoring, seventh on the money list and no missed cuts. Made a big jump in Top 10 percentage (32 in 2005, 57 in 2006). I don’t expect her to be able to maintain this high ranking next year, but you have to be impressed at the turnaround she made.

#6 Mi Hyun Kim (5)
#7 Jeong Jang (7)
#8 Hee-Won Han (10)
#9 Paula Creamer (8)
#10 Seon Hwa Lee (9)
#11 Michelle Wie (11)
#12 Se Ri Pak (12)
#13 Pat Hurst (14)
#14 Natalie Gulbis (13)
#15 Julieta Granada (NR)
#16 Sherri Steinhauer (17)
#17 Stacy Prammanasudh (NR)
#18 Morgan Pressel (19)
#19 Ai Miyazato (NR)
#20 Brittany Lincicome (15)

Dropped out: Meena Lee (16), Shi Hyun Ahn (18), Jee Young Lee (20)

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