Leaderboard Hopefuls: Players to watch in 2012

Photo Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images

Ai Miyazato of Japan plays her second shot at the par 5, 2nd hole during the first round of the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club.

April 11 2012, Katie Ann Robinson
The 2012 season is in full swing with several players on the fringe of the leaderboard and looking to lock in a victory this season. Take a look at these top contenders leading the field this year.

Almost there

Japanese star and Rolex Rankings No. 7 Ai Miyazato has nearly tasted two victories this season, both falling short to No. 1 Yani Tseng at the Honda LPGA Thailand and RR Donnelley Founders Cup. It’s been a familiar sight to see Miyazato as a frontrunner each week but she has yet to maintain her lead in the final rounds.

Along with two runner-ups, Miyazato recorded ties for fifth and sixth at the Kia Classic and HSBC Women’s Champions this season. With seven career wins and an 11 week streak at No. 1 in 2010, Miyazato has what it takes to hold the top spot on Tour. With her familiarity, it’s just a matter of time until she reaches that point again.  

So close, yet so far

A simple tap-in for par to clinch a career-defining victory is the kind of putt every player wishes to have to win their first major championship. It’s possible to overlook the simplicity of the putt with emotions and expectations running so high. So as I.K. Kim stepped up to the ball and watched it clip the edge, it was probably difficult to maintain her composure, shake it off and finish strong.

The Rolex Rankings No. 5 has proven she can win an LPGA event with three career victories at the 2008 Longs Drug Challenge, 2009 LPGA State Farm Classic, 2010 Lorena Ochoa Invitational by Banamax and Corona Light. She has 46 top-10 finishes and has recorded 5 runner-ups since 2007.

Fans and media alike will have their eyes on Kim this season to see if she can bounce back after the dramatic finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Hope for the Americans

As one of three Americans in the top-10 of the Rolex Rankings, No. 9 Stacy Lewis has seen the leaderboard the most this year. At the season opener in Australia, Lewis was one of six players to participate in a sudden-death playoff. The tie for second place seemed to set the tone for the season as she went on to record a tie for fifth at the Honda LPGA Thailand, a tie for 10th at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup and a tie for fourth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

The four-year veteran made huge strides in the 2011 season with 12 top-10s including five top-5s. She became a Rolex First-Time winner for her first major championship victory after defeating Yani Tseng by three strokes at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Just two of six tournament winners have been Americans this year (Jessica Korda, ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and Angela Stanford, HSBC Women’s Champions). As the LPGA Tour continues domestic play, viewers hope to see Lewis and many other Americans climb to the top.  

Just a matter of time

Rolex Rankings No. 11 Shanshan Feng had a hot streak in the first three weeks of the season posting three top-5 finishes in the Asia-Pacific swing. Feng not only has had success on the LPGA Tour but also the Ladies European Tour, becoming the first player from Mainland China to win an LET event last month.

Since Feng’s first appearance on the LPGA Tour in 2008, she has recorded 16 top-10 finishes including three runner-ups at the 2012 HSBC Women’s Champions, where she lost in a four-way sudden-death playoff, the 2011 Mizuno Classic and the 2008 State Farm Classic.

Although she has yet to post a victory for the LPGA Tour, she proven herself on the JLPGA winning two events in 2011. With Feng’s ascension and success on three Tours, her name just might be in the winner’s circle for an LPGA event this year.

On the Rise...

Rolex Rankings No. 56 Jenny Shin has also put her name in the spotlight this season. Making some adjustments after her rookie season in 2011, Shin started the season off with three top-10 finishes including a solo seventh place finish at the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open, a tie for ninth at the Honda LPGA Thailand and tied for second along with Feng at the HSBC Women’s Champions.

Shin turned professional in 2010 and recorded seven top-10 finishes on the Symetra Tour. A win at the International at Concord brought her up to fourth place on the 2010 money list and earned her full status on the LPGA Tour for 2011.

She had a rocky start to her rookie season but managed to produce two top-10s and a fourth place finish in the Rookie of the Year race. 2012 could be her breakout season.

Topics: Miyazato, Ai, Feng, Shanshan, Shin, Jenny, Kim, I K, Lewis, Stacy [+]

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