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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two Majors This Week: First, the Ladies

We're nearing the end of our two-month run of majors. Next week we get a break before the last two in this stretch... but this week we get TWO strong majors. (Can I call them major majors?) We'll take a look at the U.S. Senior Open tomorrow; today we'll focus on the Women's British Open and the new #1, Jiyai Shin. (The pic is from her bio page at LPGA.com.)

Jiyai Shin bio photoThe Ricoh Women's British Open is the last major of the year for both the LPGA and the LET. The highest-ranked players played in the Evian Masters this past week, so they're all acclimated to the time change and have some competitive rounds under their belts. (In addition to a few massages and saunas, I imagine!) The Rolex Top 10 is still the same, but their order has shifted noticeably. Here's the list with their current points standing after Evian, their points before Evian, and their British Open finishes in 2009 and 2008:
  1. Jiyai Shin, 10.66 (9.56) T8, WON
  2. Ai Miyazato, 10.25 (10.27) T3, 5
  3. Cristie Kerr, 10.18 (10.27) T8, 6
  4. Suzann Petterson, 10.14 (9.86) CUT, T24
  5. Yani Tseng, 8.35 (8.32) T20, 2
  6. Na Yeon Choi, 8.22 (7.74) T8, T21
  7. Paula Creamer, 7.53 (7.59) T3, T9
  8. Anna Nordqvist, 7.23 (7.37) T51, T42 (as amateur)
  9. Song-Hee Kim, 7.19 (6.99) T11, T29
  10. Karrie Webb, 6.74 (6.79) 2, T9
When was the last time we had four ladies with more than 10 ranking points each? While there's only a half-point difference between #1 and #4, there is now nearly a two-point difference between #4 and #5. This week's major, being the last tournament with big points up for grabs, carries a bit more pressure for that reason. This will be the last tournament this year where a player could gain two or more points at once, and if the top 4 all play well and the rest don't, that gap could grow quite a bit.

My predictions in yesterday's post weren't off much; Pettersen didn't gain as many points as I thought she would, whereas Tseng actually gained a few fractions (I thought she would lose points). And while I expected Miyazato to gain some on Kerr, I didn't expect Kerr to drop so much. As it turned out, Kerr dropped a T6 at the 2008 Evian, which cost her some points. (The Constructivist did a really neat post on what caused me to guess wrong on Pettersen and Choi's moves. But I didn't think I was mostly wrong, TC -- I only missed two! ;-)

For you Morgan Pressel fans (who, like me, are overlooking her Tigeresque vocabulary as of late), you'll be happy to know she moved up to #15. (The LPGA's PDF of the rankings says she moved up 2 positions, but the previous week's PDF shows her at #16.) Her points rating improved from 4.65 to 5.27, a really good move. She finished T42 at last year's British, and I believe she could make a jump up to #7 or #8 (as Paula Creamer did) if she manages to win this week.

Lexi celebrates birdie at 72nd holeAnd for those of you keeping track, Lexi Thompson's T2 at Evian jumped her 75 spots in the rankings to #74. She has a 1.72 ranking (up from .80 last week) after only 8 tournaments and, according to the Golf Digest article linked later in this paragraph, she would be 18th on the money list with $315K after only 3 pro starts -- remember, the 15-year-old isn't a member of the LPGA (and can't be until she's 18), so she's somewhat limited in her options. It's too bad her T2 couldn't get her an exemption into this week's major. She may want to try and play some foreign events later this year; as well as she's playing, she might be able to crack the Top 20 before next season. (The pic of Lexi's celebration after sinking her birdie putt on the 72nd at Evian is from this article at GolfDigest.com.)

So what should we be looking for this week? First off, six players are "red lights" -- Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Cristie Kerr, Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer, and Karrie Webb  to watch. Not only did these six play extremely well last year, but they also played well in 2008... and those 2008 finishes will drop off the rankings next week. I would guess Jiyai probably needs a top 5 just to hold ground,  Yani a top 7, and  Ai and Cristie top 10s. Paula's thumb is a real question mark (remember, she couldn't even practice after the U.S. Open, so she could lose ground next week), and Karrie risks dropping completely from the Top 10. (In-Kyung Kim, at #11 and only a quarter point behind her, had a string of top 5s coming into Evian and generally plays well at the British -- T20 last year, T9 in 2008, and T42 her rookie year.)

Suzann Pettersen is a mixed bag, as she drops a fairly low finish at the 2008 British but continues to be hurt by missing the cut last year. A good finish could really kick up her point total and give her a boost up the rankings... especially if Shin, Miyazato, or Kerr struggles.

And then there's Anna Nordqvist, who played in 2008 as an amateur and has the least tournaments in the ranking period, so she'd get maximum point value if she managed to win.

The Ricoh Women's British Open will be played at Royal Birkdale, which has hosted the women four times before. Those winners were:
  • 1982: Marta Figuras-Dotti
  • 1986: Laura Davies
  • 2000: Sophie Gustafson
  • 2005: Jeong Jang
Only Jeong Jang got credit for winning a major here, as the British Open didn't become an official major (replacing the du Maurier Classic) until 2001.

I don't know how long the course is going to play yet, but JJ's win in 2005 tells me that a shorter hitter can win here. It will probably come as no surprise that Jiyai Shin (who got her British win at Sunningdale) is my favorite to win this week. The big question for me is how much a win would up her ranking points because, as mentioned earlier, the points for her 2008 win will drop from the rankings. Cristie Kerr gained 2 points when she won the LPGA Championship and dropped a T10 off the back; could Jiyai Shin pick up maybe 1.5 points and kick her Rolex points up to the 12 range? If she does, I think the other ladies will have a rough time catching her for at least several months.

This week could be a watershed week for the LPGA. I can't wait!

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