Seon Hwa Lee (#6)
Won the HSBC Match Play event, beating Ai Miyazato in the final. Otherwise it was a quiet but profitable season for the 2006 ROY. Eight Top 10s (only one Top 5 besides the victory), fifth on the money list, tenth in scoring with two missed cuts.
Earlier this year, I pointed out that Seon Hwa’s putting stats were a little down from a year ago. It stayed that way all year – she finished T25 in putts per GIR, down from T2. I’ll be interested to see which performance turns out to be the real deal – nobody has a better putting stroke. She ranked better in GIR this year (up from 46 to 9), but her GIR percentage actually went down from .677 to .670. This means that overall, the entire Tour wasn’t hitting GIR nearly as well in 2007, which helps explain the 0.386 scoring average increase. As I’ve said before, I believe the new (and perhaps more difficult) courses coupled with inclement weather at more of the events combined to make scoring more difficult. It is reasonable to assume that those differences would also make reaching the green in regulation more difficult, and the lower GIR numbers could account for most of the increased scoring.
Stacy Prammanasudh (#7)
Stacy won the Fields Open back in February and while she didn’t win again, she came close several times - six total finishes in the Top 5, 10 in the Top 10. She was fifth in scoring but only 14th on the money list with two missed cuts. The money list shortfall wasn’t helped by only making 22 starts. Stacy DNS’d the Wegman’s in June because of a thumb problem and may have skipped a few others since then, trying to favor it.
In last year’s comments, I said I felt Stacy had reached a plateau of sorts that I wasn’t sure she would be able to rise above. Her work with Bill Harmon proved me wrong as she enjoyed the best season of her five-year LPGA career. I think she can do even better.
Cristie Kerr (#8)
Won the US Open, the first major championship of her career. If not for that, you’d be asking me “What the hell is wrong with Cristie Kerr?”. She’s sixth on the money list, but only 17th in scoring (down from 3rd in 2006), only six Top 10s and three missed cuts after missing none last year. Coming into 2007 she was my #4 player, seemingly on her way up. Now she’s fallen into a group of players around the #10 spot who all have been playing much more consistently than her.
The raw numbers say it was an across-the-board dropoff. Cristie was first in putts per GIR last year, T16 this year. Fifth in GIR in ’06, down to 19 in ’07. Her driving accuracy was about the same both years, but she lost about ten yards off her distance average this year. None of those things by themselves would have hurt too bad, but piece it together this way – Kerr loses ten yards off the tee (for whatever reason), that prevents her from hitting as many GIR, and at the same time loses a bit with the putter. Does that completely explain her scoring average going up 1.5 strokes relative to the rest of the Tour? No, but that’s the best I can come up with.
Angela Park (#9)
The 2007 Rookie of the Year, Angela was the only rookie to make my final Top 30. In fact, she was the only rookie to make ANY of my Top 30 rankings this year. After last year’s flood of excellent rookies, that seems to say that this class was rather ho-hum. Actually, a total of four rookies made my final Top 40 and with Park’s outstanding season, this class is one of the better ones amongst the last 20 seasons.
Angela wasn’t able to break through with a victory but she finished in the Top 5 six times, the LPGA Championship and the US Open among those. She totaled eight Top 10s, finished eighth on the money list, ninth in scoring and missed only one cut. I can almost put her in the “Peanut Family” – if she can improve just a little on her T25 putts per GIR, she’ll fit in perfectly.
Jee Young Lee (#10)
Lost a playoff to Suzann Pettersen at the Michelob, so we all figured her to be hoisting a trophy within a couple of weeks. It didn’t happen, but Jelly still had an excellent year. Ten Top 10s, four Top 5s, tenth on the money list, 12th in scoring and only one missed cut. A shoulder injury in August sidelined her for six weeks, but she came back to score Top 10s at Samsung and Mizuno.
Why do I think Lee has such a good chance to be one of the very best in the game? She finished second in driving distance and fourth in GIR. That T30 in putting isn’t too bad but if she could improve that a little bit, she could challenge Ochoa and Pettersen because the rest of their raw numbers are so similar.