The Evian Championship: Top-Ranked Challengers

Inbee Park (South Korea) began her climb up the Rolex Rankings when she won the 2012 Evian Championship.  Park played a stunning game, carding 71, 64, 70 & 68 for a total -17, missing Juli Inkster’s -21 Evian record by just 4 shots.  The rest is history.  The Evian marked the beginning of Park’s ascent to what is now a 22-week reign at the top of the Rolex Ranking.  Bt the Rolex Rankings only tell a part of the story, and a closer look at the top 5 Rolex Ranked players who will tee off at The Evian suggests that the Rolex Rankings, like the Dow Jones Average, describe the past but don’t necessarily predict the future.

A closer look at Park’s tournament performance reveals a player who was already surging when she took the first tee at The Evian last year.  At the end of 2011 Park was ranked 31st by Rolex, the gold standard in women’s pro golf.  She’d had 3 top-10 finishes and no victories, and she certainly didn’t look like a champion as 2011 ended.  2012 started much the same way as 2011 ended for Park.  She was in the middle of the pack.  In June she started piling up to-10 finishes: The Wegman’s LPGA Classic (9th), the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic (2nd), the WalMart NW Arkansas Championship (4th), the US Women’s Open (9th).  With 3 months of first-class playing in her bag, Inbee Park got her big win, and polished off 2012 with 3 more top-10 finishes.

Has Park peaked?  With 6 victories and 8 top-10 finishes this year, one wouldn’t think so.  But Park’s red-hot putter cooled off dramatically after her US Women’s Open win in June and by the RICOH Women’s British Open her game looked sadly depleted.  Although Park’s playing was stronger at the CN Canadian Women’s Open 2 weeks ago, her steady, sturdy robotic swing looked stiff and forced, and her flat stick hadn’t regained its earlier predictability.

Jun. 10, 2012; Pittsford, NY, USA; Stacy Lewis on the green of the second hole during the final round of the Wegmans LPGA championship at the Locust Hill Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Inbee Park bumped Stacy Lewis (USA) off the top of the Rolex Rankings in early March 2013.  Is Lewis ready to take back the #1 slot?  Perhaps.  With 4 victories and 18 top-10 finishes Lewis had a stunning 2012 season.  Has that peak performance continued into 2013?  She’s had 3 wins, the most recent the RICOH Women’s British Open in August, and 13 top-10s going in to the Evian.  But she didn’t play effectively for Team USA at the Solheim Cup and she withdrew from Canadian Women’s Open 2 weeks ago.  Lewis has a winning game in her bag but she may still be struggling with a Solheim hangover.

Norwegian Suzann Pettersen is sitting in 3rd place in the Rolex Rankings.  An aggressive competitor who simply doesn’t ever let up on the pressure, Pettersen is a formidable opponent.  She’s coming in to The Evian with 2 victories and 10 top-10 finishes.  Pettersen went 2-1-1 at the Solheim, not as good as teammates Caroline Hedwall, Carlota Ciganda, or Beatriz Recari, but sufficiently competent to make the points Team Europe needed to win.  Pettersen did not have a Solheim hangover.  Two weeks after the Team Europe victory Pettersen shot an impressive -20 to win the Safeway Classic in Portland, Oregon.  Pettersen edged out Inbee Park at the LET World Ladies Championship this year and she tied for 4th place at the British Women’s Open.  Pettersen’s game isn’t surging.  It’s been consistently world-class for the past 24 months.  Pettersen will make a run at The Evian Championship and I think she has a very good chance of winning it.

South Koreans Na Yeon Choi and So Yeon Ryu are ranked 4th and 5th by Rolex.  In 2012 Choi, who turned pro in 2008, ranked 2nd on the LPGA money list, was enjoying a steady winning career that included a total of 7 victories and 65 top-10 finishes.  She’s still playing very competitive golf.  Although she’s had no victories in 2013, her 7 top-10 finishes this year include the Women’s British Open.  But Choi’s recent record doesn’t suggest a serious challenge for The Evian championship.

So Yeon Ryu turned pro in 2007, played on the LPGA-Korea Tour, won the US Women’s Open in 2011, and qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2012.  That year she won the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic and was named LPGA Rookie of the Year. To this point in the 2013 season Ryu has 6 top-10 finishes, most recently finishing 3rd at the US Women’s Open.

Choi and Ryu are both high-ranked golfers, and even though recent performances are more heavily weighted than earlier performance, the Rolex rankings are cumulative.  Choi and Ryu are riding on their 2012 victories and top-10s.  To mount a serious run at The Evian they will both need to reach deep and pull out the game they were using in early 2012.

Topics: Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, The Evian Championship

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