Monday, April 09, 2007

Top 20 – April 2007

We are through the first major for 2007 and with all the talk of Annika Sorenstam’s imminent ouster from Number One status, it seems to be a good time to update my Top 20 players list.

In my statistical formula, 2006 performance still counts for 75% of a player’s rating with the other 25% coming from the first five tournaments of 2007. After each ’07 event, the factor on 2006 decreases by 5% until it reaches zero after the twentieth event. As usual, these rankings are subjective using my stat system as a baseline. The player’s previous ranking is in parentheses.

#1 Lorena Ochoa (1)
Picked up right where she left off in November. Lorena won the Safeway and has finished in the Top 10 in four of the first five events. Still looking for that first major – was tied for the second round lead at the KNC but a bad Saturday and mediocre Sunday left her four strokes short.

#2 Karrie Webb (2)
I almost dropped Webb to #3, but she does have one Top 10 and Annika hasn’t played THAT much better. Karrie finished third at SBS but missed the cut at the Safeway and T14 and T20 otherwise.

#3 Annika Sorenstam (3)
The playoff loss to Meaghan Francella in Mexico is the latest in a string of examples that show Annika’s aura of invincibility has disappeared. Just twelve months ago, the idea of the Ice Queen losing in a playoff to a newly-exempt player (not a rookie by technical means, only) was laughable. Not to mention she blew a two-shot lead to create that playoff in the first place. That makes four times since her last victory in September that Annika has been beaten heads up. Just to make it clear – I don’t dislike Annika Sorenstam (although I do like Lorena Ochoa better). It was obvious that in the latter months of 2006 she took a big step downward in her performance, and I feel that was ignored or excused by most media. After the loss in Mexico, the explanation we started hearing was “she’s focusing on the majors” – only to finish tied for 30th at the Nabisco. I’ll finish this comment on a positive note - Annika has two Top 10s in her first three ’07 starts and is certainly one of the three best players in the world.

#4 Cristie Kerr (4)
Still Number Four, but Cristie is definitely not off to the kind of start I expected for her. She’s already missed two cuts after making them all last year. Her one Top 10 was a T6 at the Fields, but due to the Mis-Marked Putt fiasco you can’t really say she had a good week there either. It’s probably too early for me to be saying this, but I think I liked the spinster version of Kerr better.

#5 Mi Hyun Kim (6)
One Top 10 in her first five events with no missed cuts. Peanut isn’t lighting it up but by no means is she struggling.

#6 Paula Creamer (9)
Despite missing the cut in Mexico, Paula jumps three spots because of her win at the SBS, her three other Top 20 finishes, and two players in front of her playing poorly. If she hadn’t missed that cut, Creamer would be Top 5 and pushing Kerr for fourth.

#7 Jeong Jang (7)
One Top 10 (T3 at Safeway) with no missed cuts, but T25 is her best other finish.

#8 Juli Inkster (5)
All Juli has accomplished so far in four 2007 events is four made cuts. T73, T60, T64 and then a T24 at the Nabisco which got wiped out when she was DQ’d after the final round (I haven’t found out why yet).

#9 Hee-Won Han (8)
Mommy played pretty well – missed one cut but one Top 10 along with a T11 in four events. Her baby is due July 1 and I’ve heard she may be back by October. I’ll put my money on her returning at the tournament in South Korea October 19-21. Han didn’t put enough points on the board to keep herself in my Top 20 until then, but she could still be on this list when the baby comes.

#10 Morgan Pressel (18)
Winning the Kraft Nabisco isn’t wholly responsible for vaulting Morgan into my Top 10, but it surely didn’t hurt. In four events, her worst finish has been T13 at Safeway. Otherwise, Pressel has finished T4, T3 and 1. Now that she’s reached this level, I believe that (much like Paula Creamer two years ago) she’s very likely here to stay. Does the Rolex ranking formula ONLY count performances in majors? If I ranked Morgan the fourth best player in the world, you would probably call me a fool. You may already call me that, but you get what I mean…

#11 Stacy Prammanasudh (17)
A win at the Fields and three other Top 10s in five starts, including a tie for fifth at the KNC. Stacy P has really taken off since she started working with coach Bill Harmon. I expect her to be in the Top 10 the next time I rank them.

#12 Seon Hwa Lee (10)
One Top 10 (T9 in Mexico) but suffered the first missed cut of her LPGA career at the Nabisco. Lee hasn’t really played poorly – she’s just been passed up by a couple of players on real hot streaks. She hasn’t been putting quite as well (T34) as she did last year (T2).

#13 Se Ri Pak (12)
Until the back nine on Sunday at the KNC, Pak looked to be on track to win her sixth major championship and complete a career Grand Slam. A series of poor shots and decisions left her tied for tenth. That’s been her best finish, with a T17 and T14 in the events in Hawaii and a missed cut at Safeway. The nagging injury bug has stayed away from her so far.

#14 Julieta Granada (15)
Just missed winning the SBS but then promptly missed the next two cuts – actually she DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard in Mexico but she would have missed the cut anyway. T16 and T26 in the two events since, so she appears to be bouncing back.

#15 Michelle Wie (11)
Still hasn’t been able to play due to injured wrists – I believe she’s had problems with both. Since she withdrew from the Nabisco, I haven’t seen an update on her expected return. As I pointed out at the top, Michelle still gets credit for her excellent (albeit brief) 2006 play here.

#16 Shi Hyun Ahn (NR)
Ahn didn’t play in Hawaii, but she’s had a chance to win all three tournaments she’s entered – T6, T8 and then T5 at the KNC. Now that she’s healthy, there’s no telling how high she will climb. More than once last week, I mistook her for Grace Park – and the big-billed visor she wore on Sunday wasn’t the only reason for that.

#17 Pat Hurst (13)
In four events, Pat hasn’t missed a cut but she hasn’t finished better than T11 (T14, T32 and T37 otherwise). Hasn’t quite gotten on track, but she also hasn’t started her Jekyll-Hyde routine yet either.

#18 Jee Young Lee (NR)
I know what you’re thinking - make up your damn mind, Hound Dog!! First you rank her, then you kick her out, now you rank her again. It’s not that she’s played erratically; others who were just below her (Pressel, Prammanasudh, Granada, etc.) leaped forward while she hadn’t played quite well enough to pass players who were already ahead of her. That is, until now. By the way, I’m going to stop calling her Petunia – not because it sounds a little derogatory, but because a better nickname has been coined by her fellow players. Jelly has two Top 10s (including a second at the Fields), a T13 at the Nabisco, and hasn’t yet missed a cut.

#19 Sherri Steinhauer (16)
Sherri missed the cut at the Fields, but finished Top 10 at the SBS and in Mexico. Not a bad start, but she drops three spots due to getting jumped by four players (Pressel, Stacy P, Ahn, JY Lee) and by only passing one herself (Gulbis). I’d like to say she’s in no danger of falling off this list but a lot of players in this area are playing well right now, so anything’s possible.

#20 Ai Miyazato (19)
Tied for third at the Fields and T15 at KNC, but T59 at Safeway and missed the cut at the SBS. Not as extreme a case as Steinhauer’s, but Ai falls one spot for similar reasons.

Dropped out: Natalie Gulbis (14), Brittany Lincicome (20)
Lincicome falls out despite finishing tied for second at the Nabisco. Her three other finishes are all in the 30s. Gulbis’ decline has been astonishing. In Hawaii she finished T14 and T33, but missing three straight cuts must have Club Natalie in an uproar. I’m not too sure about her getting it turned back around very soon.

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