Minjee Lee, Lexi Thompson rise up top 10 – JWS

Welcome to the third edition of the Just Women’s Sports LPGA power rankings, just in time for major season on tour. The LPGA will host two of its five major championships over the next four weeks, with the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles teeing off this Thursday and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship beginning June 23 at Congressional Golf Club.

Three new players have entered the top 10 since the last time we released our power rankings, with a new face taking over the No. 2 slot to challenge No. 1. Let’s run down the list.

1. Jin Young Ko

A second-place finish at Rancho Palos Verdes secured Ko’s spot atop the JWS power rankings, which she’s held all season long. After a strong start to the year, Ko is arguably entering the most important month of the year for her long-term goal of securing the career grand slam, which involves winning every single major at least eleven. Ko knocked two of the five off her list in 2019, with victories at the ANA Inspiration (now Chevron Championship) and Evian Championship.

For Ko to find the winner’s circle at one of the upcoming majors, she needs to get back to hitting greens more regularly. The 13-time LPGA winner has found 73.6 percent of greens in regulation in 2022, 3.8 percent less than her career average of 77.4. Last year, the 26-year-old hit 78.8 percent of greens in regulation during her five-win season.

Starts: 6
wins: 1
Top-10s: 3
Remarkable Finishes: Win at HSBC Women’s Championship, Runner-Up Palos Verdes Championship, T-4 JTBC Classic
LastMonth: 1st

2. Minjee Lee

The Australian went from trending to winning. The LPGA’s leader in strokes gained from tee to green took home the Cognizant Founders Cup and acknowledged how well she’s been striking the golf ball this season.

“I just feel like I’ve kind of been trending,” Lee said after her victory in New Jersey. “I’ve been hitting it really, really well this whole season, and I just felt like it was kind of around the corner. I kept knocking on the door, and here I am now. I finished with a win this week.”

The LPGA began measuring strokes gained in 2021, seven years after the PGA Tour first started using it. It measures how well a player executes each shot they hit relative to the field’s average outcome from a given distance. For example, if on average the field takes three strokes to get to the hole from 160 yards, and a player gets there in two, they gained a stroke on the field from that distance.

Lee has gained 96.9 total strokes from tee to green this year in 28 rounds, ahead of In Gee Chun with 69.4 in 33 rounds. As a result, the seven-time tour winner leads the LPGA in scoring average (68.89), just ahead of Lexi Thompson at 69.26. If Lee can win two of the last four majors, she would be the first to do so since Ko in 2019.

Starts: 8
wins: 1
Top-10s: 3
Remarkable Finishes: Win at Founders Cup, T-2 HSBC Women’s Championship, T-3 DIO Implant Open
LastMonth: 10th

3. Lydia Ko

Consistency remains the theme for Ko in 2022. She still hasn’t finished outside of the top 25, adding a top-3 finish at Palos Verdes, and her putter has been one of the biggest reasons why.

Ko is averaging the lowest putts per round (28.25) of her nine-year career, 0.06 better than her 2016 campaign when she was world No. 1 and won four times, including a major at the ANA Inspiration. This season, she’s tied for her second-best putts per green in regulation average (1.72), trailing only her 2016 performance (1.71).

The 17-time tour champion will look to win her first major title since her 2016 ANA Inspiration victory over the next month and solidify her return as one of the game’s greats. Only 28 other players have won three or more majors in the tour’s history, putting Ko firmly on the path to the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Starts: 8
wins: 1
Top-10s: 3
Remarkable Finishes: Win at Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, T-3 Palos Verdes Championship
LastMonth: 2nd

4. Atthaya Thitikul

The rookie notched another top-10 finish at the Cognizant Founders Cup, helping her maintain a 50 percent top-10 rate over 10 starts. Thitikul is tied for the most top-10s on tour with five alongside Celine Boutier. She also leads the LPGA with 172 birdies; Boutier is second with 162.

The Thai star holds a 160-point advantage in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race, with her 568 points leading Hye-Jin Choi’s 408. The 19-year-old has an opportunity to separate herself even further and prove she’s poised enough to handle the high-pressure major tournaments. She finished fifth at the Amundi Evian Championship last season and posted a T-17 at the Chevron Championship this year. This week, she’ll make her first career start at the US Women’s Open.

Starts: 10
wins: 1
Top-10s: 5
Best Finish: Win at JTBC Classic, T-4 HSBC Women’s World Championship, T-6 Lotte Championship
LastMonth: 4th

5. Lexi Thompson

Thompson has emerged to fifth after not being ranked in our last edition, largely because she’s been making more starts. She’d teed it up only four times through the Lotte Championship ahead of our last rankings. Two starts later, she’s added a T-13 finish and her second runner-up finish of the season at the Cognizant Founders Cup. She leads the LPGA in strokes gained per round and greens in regulation (76.8 percent).

“I think as athletes we just want to see our hard work pay off,” Thompson said at the end of the Cognizant Founders Cup. “And when I’m home, I’m doing two workouts a day. I’m putting five to six hours out on the golf course, and just to see it pay off means the world to me. I’m going to continue to work my butt off and hopefully see the results.”

Thompson will look to ride the momentum and avenge her collapse at last year’s US Open, when she lost a five-shot lead on the back nine. The 27-year-old, in her 15th start at the major, shot a 75 in the final round at Olympic Club, including a five-over par 41 on the back nine. Now, she returns to Pine Needles, where she made her US Open debut at the age of 12. Her next win de ella will be her de ella first de ella since the 2019 Shoprite LPGA Classic.

Starts: 6
wins: 0
Top-10s: 4
Remarkable Finishes: Runner Up at Cognizant Founder’s Cup, Runner Up at LPGA Drive On Crown Colony, T-4 Chevron Championship
LastMonth: Not Ranked

6. Hyo Joo Kim

Kim’s case for the power rankings is a complicated one, as she hasn’t made a start on the LPGA Tour since her win in Hawaii. That victory launched her to third in the power rankings. The South Korean did finish fourth in the KLPGA’s CreaS F & C The 44TH KLPGA Championship, has no bearing on her spot of her in these rankings.

Like Thompson, if Kim plays a few more events at the same level, she can quickly reclaim her previous spot.

Starts: 5
wins: 1
Top-10s: 3
Remarkable Finishes: Victory at the Lotte Championship, T-6 Honda LPGA Thailand, T-8 Chevron Championship
LastMonth: 3rd

7. Nasa Hataoka

The Japanese star’s best two finishes this season have been in her last two starts, with her victory at Wilshire Country Club followed by a T-6 finish in New Jersey. Hataoka rolls into the US Open with momentum after she lost to Yuka Saso in a playoff at Olympic Club last year, the second major playoff loss of her career. The first came when Sung Hyun Park defeated her and So Yeon Ryu at Kemper Lakes Golf Club in the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Hataoka is tied with Jessica Korda for a label no player wants to hold onto for long: most victories on tour without a major. Perhaps a good sign for the two of them, two others have gotten over the hump in recent years. First, Sei Young Kim won the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and then Minjee Lee added a major to her resume at the Amundi Evian Championship last year.

Starts: 10
wins: 1
Top-10s: two
Best Finish: Win at DIO Implant LA Open, T-6 Cognizant Founder’s Cup
LastMonth: 6th

8. Marina Alex

The 31-year-old acknowledged after her victory at Rancho Palos Verdes — the second of her 10-year LPGA career — that she had been close to walking away from the game.

“If you had talked to me last year or the beginning of even this year, I didn’t think it was even a remote possibility that I was going to win ever again,” she said. “I didn’t know how much longer I really wanted to be golfing ever again.”

Instead, Alex overcame the No. 1 and No. 3 player in these power rankings for her first win in four years. She started working with a new swing coach last May in Claude Harmon, and the results have paid off this season. Her three top-10 finishes this year match her total from the 2020 and 2021 seasons combined.

Starts: 9
wins: 1
Top-10s: 3
Remarkable Finishes: Win at Palos Verdes Championship, T-6 Honda LPGA Thailand
LastMonth: Not Ranked

9. Jennifer Kucho

Kupcho’s leap into Poppie’s Pond has kept her in the lead in the races for Rolex Player of the Year and the Rolex Annika Major Award. The 2021 Solheim Cup breakout star sits in third place in the 2023 US Solheim Cup points leaderboard, behind Lexi Thompson and Danielle Kang. Kupcho has posted three top-20 finishes since her victory for her at the Chevron Championship.

The lone major champion of 2022 aims to become the first player on the LPGA Tour to win back-to-back majors since Inbee Park won three in a row to start the 2013 season.

Starts: 10
wins: 1
Top-10s: two
Remarkable Finishes: Win at Chevron Championship, T-6 Honda LPGA Thailand
LastMonth: 7th

10.Madelene Sagstrom

The Swede has racked up four consecutive top-10 finishes following a T-13 at the Chevron Championship. Three of the four have been top-5 finishes. She’s credited her run de ella, in part, to “The Chimp Paradox,” a book by Steve Peters that’s helped her tune out the voice in the back of her head telling her she’s doing something wrong.

Sagstrom is 26th in the latest Rolex World Rankings, the best rank of his career after starting the 2022 season at 43rd. For the first time in Sagstrom’s six-year LPGA career, she has strung together consecutive top-10s finishes, let alone four in a row.

Starts: eleven
wins: 0
Top-10s: 4
Remarkable Finishes: T-3 DIO Implant LA Open, T-3 Cognizant Founders Cup, T-5 Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play
LastMonth: Not Ranked

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

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