If the leaderboard at the season’s first major – the Kraft Nabisco Championship – is any indication, the players battling for the inaugural Rolex ANNIKA Major Award are likely going to mimic the top of the Rolex Rankings.
Of the top-six finishers at the year’s first major, five ranked in the top 11 in the Rolex Rankings. To even be in contention for the award given to the LPGA’s best major performer, a player has to win a major so Lexi Thompson’s win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship has her sitting in a prime spot heading into the U.S. Women’s Open. The award is to be announced in a ceremony at the Evian Championship and is appropriately named after the women’s golfer most synonymous with major championship success with 10 majors and a career Grand Slam to her credit.
With points only awarded for top-10 finishes, here’s five players suited the best to join Thompson in contention.
Stacy Lewis – The two-time major champion has a game ideally suited for Pinehurst No. 2. She’s got length off the tee, a tremendous short game and she can work the ball both ways. She prefers the more difficult setups like the U.S. Women’s Open is always known for, and the top-ranked player in the world has won two of the last five events on the LPGA Tour. It’d be shocking if she isn’t squarely in contention all week.
Lewis’ second major win at the 2013 Women’s British Open shows she can handle the tricky bump-and-run shots that players are frequently faced with at Pinehurst and a solo third place finish (18 points) at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to open the season has to place her as Thompson’s biggest competition to take home the award with Annika Sorenstam’s namesake.
Michelle Wie – Currently second in the Rolex Annika Major Awards points standings with 24 after her second-place finish at Kraft Nabisco, Wie’s playing as consistently well as anyone on tour this season with a win and eight top-10s in 12 events. The men’s event showed players that they can hit driver more than previously feared, and no one does that benefit more than Wie. She’s hitting more greens than ever – 79 percent, good for 2nd on the LPGA – and the firmer the golf course gets, the more it benefits Wie. Much is made about her putting because of her awkward stance, but she’s 4th on the Tour in putts per green in regulation and that’s huge at Pinehurst No. 2. Playing as well as she has, a major championship is only a matter of time, and she has to be considered one of the favorites to hoist the Rolex Annika Major Award trophy at the end of the season.
Suzann Pettersen – Sure Pettersen hasn’t won this year and her best finish is a tie for 4th in 2014. Those are not the results we’re used to seeing from the No. 4 player in the world and 14-time career winner. But it’s impossible not to wonder if Pettersen’s due for a major breakout win. She’s still perhaps the best ball striker on tour, hitting a tour-best 80 percent of greens so far this year, and it’s hard to envision Pettersen getting particularly out of line out at Pinehurst No. 2. She’s a veteran, knows where to hit it/miss it and her driving distance – 12th on Tour – makes the lengthy par-4s less of a concern. Pettersen didn’t play the year’s first major with a back injury, but her steely demeanor is a perfect fit for the patience needed around No. 2. Pettersen’s approach is similar to the even-keeled, focused nature Martin Kaymer had about him in his eight-shot triumph.
Inbee Park – Park’s a two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and enters this week as the defending champion. After perhaps the most decorated season in LPGA history in 2013 with three majors and six titles, Park got off to a slow start wins wise in 2014, but then quieted all the chatter at the LPGA Tour’s last stop, carding a final round 10-under 61 – the lowest final round by a winner ever – to win the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. She’s the Tour’s best putter and at a U.S. Women’s Open, that’s probably more important than any other tournament the rest of the year. She doesn’t enter this event with any points for the Rolex Annika Major Award after a 38th place finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but she’s playing way much better and proved a year ago that she can rack up top finishes in majors in a hurry, reeling off three wins, including two majors, in the month of June a year ago.
Shanshan Feng – Were it not for a spectacular final-round 61 from Inbee Park a week ago, Feng would have entered the U.S. Women’s Open coming off a win. Ultimately, Feng’s final round 68 wasn’t enough to hold onto her third-round lead and she finished in solo third. Still, she’s playing great golf at the right time and knows what it’s like to win a major after taking home the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship. Feng also won the CME Group Titleholders to end the year against a stacked field on a golf course – Tiburon Golf Club – that had some of the natural areas that canvas Pinehurst No. 2. Feng’s solo 6th finish in the year’s first major has her in solid position as she searches for a major win to secure consideration.