LPGA Power Rankings: The Top 20 Players of the 2000s

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2010

LPGA Power Rankings: The Top 20 Players of the 2000s

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    The last decade of LPGA Tour Golf has revamped the entire landscape of women's golf.

    They're younger, longer off the tee, craftier around the greens and more hungry for victory than ever before.

    One might argue that Annika Sorenstam, undoubtedly the most talented and successful female golfer of the modern era, ushered in this monumental transition. Sorenstam's consistent dominance was a call to arms for women worldwide to challenge the best in the world.

    An array of exceptional golfers not only rose to the occasion, but exploded onto the scene, generating a newfound, fervent captivation with the LPGA.

    Here are the top 20 LPGA players of the 2000s.

Annika Sorenstam

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    Annika Sorenstam wasn’t just the best LPGA player of her decade, but one of the greatest to ever play the game. In this one decade, she earned 54 victories and eight of her 10 major championships.

    The Swede held the No.1 ranking from 2001 to 2005, a streak evocative of her male counterpart Tiger Woods.

    Her success fused physical and mental dominance with a ceaseless dedication to consistency. To illuminate this fusion, just consider how she won the LPGA Championship three consecutive times (2003-2005), did not finish outside of the top 20 once between 2000 and 2006 in the majors and had seasons of multiple wins from 1995 to 2008.

    From eighth LPGA Player of the Year Awards to setting records (only LPGA player to shoot a tournament round of 59) to breaking down barriers (competing on the PGA Tour multiple times), Sorenstam was simply the best LPGA player of the modern era.

Lorena Ochoa

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    What Lorena Ochoa accomplished in just seven years on the LPGA Tour often requires an entire career for the most outstanding LPGA player.

    Twenty-seven victories, two major championships and four Player of the Year awards are just a few of Ochoa’s most notable accolades.

    She began with a sensational rookie season, carding eight top 10s and finished ninth on the official money list. Then, Ochoa went on a tear like Kobe Bryant trailing in the fourth quarter. Five of her next six years on Tour were multiple victory seasons, highlighted by her eight-win season in 2007, including the Women’s British Open.

    But three years to the day she was named No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, Ochoa shocked the golf world when she announced her retirement from professional competitive golf. It was her wish to finish her career in her native Mexico at a tournament she had won three times, the Tres Marias Championship, at the pinnacle of her career.

Karrie Webb

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    Undeniably the best player at the turn of the millennium, Karrie Webb won 20 tournaments over the decade.

    Webb is a fervent competitor, constantly putting herself in the mix to win golf tournaments. In 2000, not only did she win seven tournaments, she also finished in the top 10 17 times in 22 events.

    Her swing is deliberately slow and methodical on the uptake, then followed by a powerful down swing, generating power from her lower body. Webb has excellent control with her irons, which allows her to play aggressively and attack pins.

    From 2000-2003 she won 12 tournaments, but fell into a bit of a slump, especially wrestling with her touch on the greens.

    But in 2006, Webb fought back, sparked by a phenomenal comeback Sunday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Webb holed a 116-yard shot from the fairway to eagle the 18th hole and then birdied the same hole in a sudden-death playoff to beat Lorena Ochoa and win her seventh major championship.

Se Ri Pak

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    Se Ri Pak shined in her rookie season like the Kevin Durant of the LPGA Tour. After she won two major championships and two others on the season, Pak was crowned Rookie of the Year and established a palpable presence on the Tour.

    From 2000-2003, she captured 13 victories, six of which came in 2003 alone. Pak’s swing is as flawless as Jordan’s jumper or Agassi’s forehand. Since her mechanics are textbook, she’s established a fluid rhythm through the ball, whether off the tee or on the greens.

    Though Pak has never regained her momentum from the early 2000s, she’s remained a competitive player, especially in the major championships with five top 10 finishes between 2006 and 2008.

Cristie Kerr

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    In the 2000s, Cristie Kerr finished in the top 10 like Pete Rose got base hits.

    It took just a single decade for Kerr to earn 111 top 10 finishes. Pair that overwhelming statistic with her 14 victories and two major championships and you’ve got a Hall of Famer without question.

    Kerr is currently the No.1 player in the official rankings and has fought tirelessly to reach this coveted position.

    Whereas players like Ochoa, Sorenstam, and Webb won far more tournaments on a consistent basis, Kerr refused to be overshadowed and made a name for herself as a constant, competitive presence down the stretch in tournaments, especially in major championships. Kerr finished in the top 10 17 separate times in the majors over this decade.

    She also made history this year after making a mockery of the field at the LPGA Championship, winning by dozen strokes. Her record-breaking victory remains one of the greatest feats in LPGA history. The only player to ever win by such a vast margin of victory was Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000, when he beat the field by a full 15 strokes.

Paula Creamer

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    Since she turned pro in 2004, Creamer has been a blueprint for consistency on the LPGA Tour. Between 2005 and2009, Creamer finished in the top 10 at least 10 times or more, in addition to winning eight tournaments.

    Two characteristics of Creamer’s game have been essential to her success throughout the 2000s—accuracy with the driver and lights-out putting. She doesn’t have the length of Michelle Wie off the tee, but she’s confident with pulling the driver on narrow par four’s because she drives it on a line consistently.

    Her precision with the driver paired with her craftiness on and around the greens has transformed her into one of the most intimidating, multi-talented players on Tour. The fact that Creamer is just 24 means she has both the time and experience ahead of her to elevate her game.

Angela Stanford

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    Angela Stanford’s career coincided with the launch of the new millennium and has been an ebb and flow whirlwind of both success and defeat.

    Though she has just four wins over her career, her first came in 2003 and was followed by an enormous slump until she claimed victory twice in 2008.

    Similar to a player like Cristie Kerr, Stanford has a knack for finishing in the top 10, notching over 35 top 10 finishes over the last four seasons.

Suzann Petterson

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    Over the last decade, Suzann Petterson has revealed her volatile demeanor, exceptional power off the tee and relentless drive to be the best on the LPGA.

    After turning pro in 2001, Petterson found her first six seasons to be an arduous, uphill climb. She went without a single victory and carded just a few top 10 finishes each season.

    Then, in 2005, she had a breakthrough season highlighted by five victories and six other top 10s. In that 2007 season, she also won her first, lone major at the LPGA Championship.

    Since then, Petterson has struggled to get back in the winner’s circle, but has definitely found her rhythm competing on Tour. This season she stormed through the gates with eight top 10s in her first 12 events. 

Jiyai Shin

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    How is it possible that Jiyai Shin has more worldwide victories than she does years on this earth?

    Well, she’s just that good.  Just 22, Shin owns 33 wins, seven on the LPGA Tour, including a Women’s British Open title from 2008.

    Shin has played some of her best golf in the LPGA majors, finishing in the top 10 at least once in each of the four majors over the last four seasons.

    What has truly separated Shin from the field has been her consistency in making cuts. It’s almost bizarre how dependable she's become; in 2009, she made 23 of 25 cuts and then this season was 14 for 14.

    Among her plethora of accolades, she earned both Rookie of the Years and the Money Title on the LPGA.

Juli Inkster

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    Juli Inkster doesn’t fit the typical mold for one of the players on this list.

    She wasn’t consistent. She didn’t win any scoring titles or Player of the Year awards.

    But, she did win seven major championships and 31 tournaments on the LPGA Tour. Much of her success was pre-2000s, but she made a substantial dent winning nine times, including two majors, between 2000 and 2005.

Meg Mallon

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    Similar to Inkster, Meg Mallon played some of her best golf prior to the 2000s but was still a competitive presence during this decade.

    She earned seven victories and two majors between 2000 and 2004. Mallon won her first U.S. Women's Open in 1991 and her second in 2004. That 13-year gap is the longest period between wins in the event’s history.

    She was also the first LPGA player to post a score of 60 in competition.

Yani Tseng

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    Yani Tsang is as unflappable on the golf course as Brian Wilson closing out the World Series.

    Just 21 years old, Tsang won her third major championship and second of the 2010 season at the RICOH Women’s British Open and made it look like a stroll across the fairway. In each of her last three seasons, Tsang has missed just one cut, won a tournament and finished in the top 10 five or more times.

    Some think she’s the future of the LPGA Tour, and her performance thus far points to such a conclusion. However, what she has done over the last three years, especially her terrific play in the majors, is almost unheard of. Not since Tiger Woods has such a young player excelled in the golf world and on the most pressure-filled stages—the majors.

Inbee Park

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    Inbee Park has a knack for showing up in the biggest events of the year. Not only did Park win the Women’s U.S. Open in 2008 at the age of 19, but in 2010 alone, she finished in the top 10 eight separate times, four of which were in the major championships.

    Park has enjoyed a great deal of success at a young age of just 22 years old. She has become a consistent contender on the LPGA Tour over the last three years, due especially to her constant under-par presence. In 46 rounds, Park has scored under-par 28 times, ranking her ninth on Tour in 2010. 

    But Park has competed on the LPGA Tour on an exemption once a year since 2004.  At the ages of 16 and 17, Park played just one event on the LPGA and finished in the top 10 each time. That’s no joke, that’s just pure game.

Ai Miyazato

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    Ai Miyazato, the 25-year-old Japanese sensation, has held the No. 1 Rolex World Ranking two separate times in 2010 and is eager to regain her reign.

    She has undeniably had a breakthrough year, winning four separate times, which is more than any of her peers on Tour. Miyazato has yet to win a major championship, but has recorded at least one top 10 finish in a major every year on Tour since 2005.

Michelle Wie

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    Michelle Wie was playing in professional events on exemptions from 2003-2005 and causing absolute chaos. As a teen, she wasn't just participating, but actually contending with the best in the world.

    When she joined the Tour in 2006, Wie finished in the top five in three of the four major championships. It looked like she would redefine the world of women’s golf. In 2006, Michelle Wie was named in TIME Magazine as “one of the 100 people who shape our world.”

    That season and worldwide fame may have jinxed her.

    Between 2007 and 2008, Wie looked like she had no business playing on the LPGA, not qualifying for a single cut in 14 events.

    Then in 2009, Wie found her groove. She made 17 of 19 cuts, earned eight top 10s and entered the winner’s circle at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. This year was another year of growth for Wie, who made 16 of 17 cuts and grabbed another "W" and two top 20s at the majors.

In-Kyung Kim

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    Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2007, In-Kyung Kim has been rapidly ascending up the ladder of progress.

    In her rookie season, she earned four top 10 finishes, and then in 2008, she doubled that number and won her first professional LPGA event.

    In 2008, Kim also finished in the top 10 at both the Women’s U.S. Open and Women’s British Open. Since then, she's finished in the top 10 in four of the eight majors.

Seon Hwa Lee

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    After joining the LPGA in 2006, Seon Hwa Lee has been one of the most impressive players on the women’s circuit. As a rookie, Lee won the ShopRite Classic and took home two top 20 finishes at the major championships.

    In 2007, she claimed her second LPGA Tour win at the HSBC Women's World Matchplay Championship, defeating Japanese up-and-comer Ai Miyazato in the final match.

    Lee had a breakout season in 2008, when she not only finished in the top 10 in two major championships, but also won two separate events. 

Anna Nordqvist

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    In just her second season on Tour, Anna Nordqvist made 17 of 17 cuts, won two events, including a major championship (the LPGA Championship) and finished in the top 10 five times.

    She has one of the most unconventional swings on Tour, getting in a semi-squat position in her backswing, only to lift up swiftly on her down swing and pummel the ball.

    She refuses to take the conservative route and instead plays aggressively, attacking pins and never leaving putts short. Nordqvist is still young and needs to gain experience in the pressure-filled atmosphere of the LPGA Tour before ascending to golf's elite, but she is well on her way.

Brittany Lincicome

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    Brittany Lincicome has been one of the most prominent and promising players on the LPGA Tour throughout the 2000s.

    In 2007, just 22 years old, Lincicome finished in the top 15 of all four majors, including a T2 and T6. At this point in her young career, she’d already earned three professional victories.

    Her most substantial win came last year at the Kraft Nabisco where she captured her first and only major championship. Her Achilles' heel has undeniably been consistency. Though she has made 15 to 20 cuts each of the last four seasons, she’s averaging just three top 10 finishes. Currently, she’s one of the most talented ball-strikers on Tour, but needs to become a more confident putter.

Who Do You Think?

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    There are a plethora of exceptional female golfers who helped define the 2000s, but who deserves the No. 20 spot?

    Your call.