Jeong Jang (#11)
It seems as though JJ has fallen off the end of the world, but her numbers are strikingly similar to those of a year ago. She was eighth in scoring both years, climbed from eighth to seventh on the money list, rose from 18 to 13 in GIR, and fell from T11 to T16 in putts per GIR. I think her relative “absence” stems from the reduced number of Top 10s (13 down to 9) and the fact she didn’t win this year. She was the playoff loser to Natalie Gulbis at Evian, the closest Jang came to victory in 2007 and is frankly the only time this year I remember seeing much of JJ on my TV screen.
Annika Sorenstam (#12)
Contrast Jang with Annika – the neck brace she wore immediately after her injury probably got more airtime than Jeong Jang did all year. Anyway – when you look at Sorenstam’s numbers without comparing them to her incredible past seasons, despite the abbreviated schedule she had a very productive season. Six Top 10s in 13 events is an excellent percentage, and three of those were Top 5s. Annika was fourth in scoring average and T3 in putts per GIR. She and Ochoa were the only players with at least six starts to not miss a cut all year. The injury and events missed because of it shows up in these stats – only 25th on the money list, T29 in driving distance, T66 in driving accuracy and an abysmal (for her) GIR of 89. Her standing in those same categories in 2006 were third, 16th, T42 and second.
Even though she didn’t fare well at the ADT, Annika played well enough in recent weeks to make me believe that she has her game back and will be in the race for Player of the Year in 2008. She announced her engagement recently but the marriage won’t take place until 2009 – evidence that Sorenstam intends to focus on making a big comeback in ’08. Much has been made of her 12-year winning streak coming to an end but even with the injury troubles and shortened schedule, she nearly extended it anyway in her first event at the MasterCard Classic, losing in a playoff to Meaghan Francella. Little did we know at the time, that would be her best shot at victory.
Se Ri Pak (#13)
The newest LPGA Hall of Famer won the Jamie Farr event (of course!), finished tied for fifth at the British Open, then struggled the rest of the year. Pak’s only Top 10 after the first week of August was T10 at Samsung, which shouldn’t really count because only 20 people play that event. Altogether, the results of ’07 resembled the results of ’06, although her 2006 victory was the LPGA Championship - 8 Top 10s (7 in ’06), 16th on the money list (13th in ’06), 14th in scoring (up from 23) with three missed cuts (up from two). Pak is one of the longer players on Tour (top 30 both years) and one of the least accurate (in the 120s both years). T3 in putts per GIR despite being branded an “inconsistent” putter.
Nicole Castrale (#14)
Won the Ginn Tribute in a playoff over Ochoa. Finished 15th in money, 20th in scoring, with seven Top 10s and two missed cuts. The thing I’ll most remember about Nicole’s season – after being selected for the Solheim Cup team over Christina Kim and incurring the wrath of many (including mine), she secured two points for the U.S. including the Cup clincher on Sunday.
In 2006, Castrale placed #30 in my rankings. Where did her game improve this year? She improved from T20 to T10 in putts per GIR and from tenth to seventh in GIR. A little more accuracy with the irons and even more with the putter can easily push a player ranked 30th into the Top 20. The players in that vicinity are so closely bunched together that a little improvement can move you up a lot.
Maria Hjorth (#15)
If you thought Pettersen came out of nowhere, Maria materialized out of thin air. In 2006, Hjorth wasn’t even in my Top 50. A victory at Navistar, seven Top 10s, 11th on the money list, 19th in scoring with three missed cuts (all of those before the Fourth of July). The reason for her improvement is simple – 23rd in GIR, up from 64 a year ago. Even though she was down a little with her putting (T20 to T48), the extra chances on the green paid off. My choice for Comeback Player of the Year.