There’s more on the line than the prize awarded to the winner of this week’s season-ending LPGA Tour Championship. Five players — Yani Tseng, Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, Cristie Kerr and Jiyai Shin — are in a tight battle to capture player of the year honors.
For the first time in ten years, Lorena Ochoa or Annika Sorenstam won’t be named Player of the Year, the LPGA’s top honor. Tseng leads the close race with 188 points. She holds a nine-point advantage over Miyazato with 179 points. Choi is in third place with 174 points, while Kerr is just behind her with 173. And then Shin stands in fifth with 170 points.
Since Ochoa retired, the top spot in the world rankings has been a game of musical chairs this year between Miyazato, Shin and Kerr. Miyazato doesn’t have a mathematical chance of finishing No. 1, but Suzann Pettersen, the perpetual bridesmaid, could move up to No. 1 with a win.
Along with the contest for POY and world’s No. 1, winner of the Vare Trophy, which is awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average, has yet to be determined. Choi is the current leader with a stroke average of 69.77, while Kerr trails closely at 69.86. Pettersen is right behind her with an average of 69.92, but she isn’t eligible to win because she won’t meet the required minimum number of rounds (she was sidelined with a hip injury earlier this season).
But the most prestigious of them all is the Player of the Year award, according to the ladies at a press conference on Wednesday at the Grand Cypress Golf Club.
“[Three weeks ago,] I heard the media say, oh, you’re leading in the Player of the Year and I’m really shocked, because I don’t know anything,” said the humble and likable Tseng. “But now, I really want this trophy, because this means a lot to me, just like Rookie of the Year, and this is like ‑‑ this is a challenge for all of the players sitting here, and then it starts feeling very exciting and very nice to have the title.”
Added Kerr, who is trying to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1984, “For me, Player of the Year is kind of it. It’s what you see happening every year, what you wish would happen to you.
“And I think it’s the year‑long culmination of you’re the best player, this is what it was, these are the points, this is a point towards the Hall of Fame. It’s something like winning a major championship and having that trophy in your house and seeing it going; that’s something nobody can ever take away from you.
“So Player of the Year is very important. I would say Vare Trophy is a close second, just because it is a point towards the Hall of Fame. No. 1 ranking is great, but it doesn’t get you a point towards the Hall of Fame. It’s more bragging rights than anything…”
With a win holding a point value of 30 this week, any of the four trailing Tseng have a shot at securing the POY title come Sunday. In my opinion, Tseng is the player of the year without a question — if winning two majors (the Kraft Nabisco and the Women’s British Open), along with a regular LPGA event, doesn’t garner enough points for POY, then the system should be reevaluated.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the 2010 performances for the five ladies in contention:
Yani Tseng: Won three times, including two majors — the Kraft Nabisco and the RICOH Women’s British Open; eight total top-tens, including a runner-up finish at the Mizuno Classic, a third at the Honda PTT Thailand and a tie for third at the HSBC Women’s Champions. (She was also kind enough to chat with me after the presser on Wednesday — stay tuned for the Q&A!)
Ai Miyazato: Five LPGA Tour wins; first LPGA player in 44 years to win the first two events of the season.
Na Yeon Choi: Two wins; 10 top-tens, including three runner-up finishes and two ties for third; enters LPGA Tour Championship leading both the LPGA official money list and the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
Cristie Kerr: Two wins, including phenomenal 12-stroke rout at the LPGA Championship Presented by Wegmans (it was compared to Tiger’s romps at Pebble and St. Andrews); 12 top-tens, including runner-up finishes at the HSBC Women’s Championship and the Safeway Classic and a T3 at the Navistar LPGA Classic.
Jiyai Shin: Lost by one point to Lorena Ochoa last season; two wins (Evian Masters and the Mizuno Classic); 14 top-ten finishes; T3 at LPGA Championship, T5 at Kraft Nabisco and US Women’s Open.
If there were no points system, who do you think is most deserving of the prestigious award?