Just how wide open are the first majors for the men and women in 2011?
It feels as if anyone in the top 10 right now has a legitimate chance to become No. 1.
That’s a sea change for the women’s game when you consider that just two players (Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa) held the top spot the first four years of the Rolex World Rankings.
The men’s game is even more wide open.
Sandra Gal’s breakthrough victory at the Kia Classic last week was notable because you don’t get a lot of unexpected winners in the women’s game. But among the men? Unexpected is this year’s theme.
You could pick 20 players before an LPGA event and feel fairly certain the winner’s going to come within that group. You could pick 50 men before a PGA Tour event and not be certain you’ve got the winner.
Nine players outside the top 100 have won PGA Tour events in the first three months of this season alone, including four players ranked 200 or higher.
Just one woman outside the top 100 in the world rankings won an LPGA event all of last year. Beatriz Recari was No. 172 when she captured the CVS/pharmacy in 2010.
Will Yani Tseng win back-to-back Kraft Nabisco Championships?
Tseng’s not the overwhelming favorite you would think with the No. 1 ranking, four worldwide victories already this season and the confidence that comes as the defending champion.
That’s because No. 2 Jiyai Shin showed she’s rounding into form with her runner-up finish at the Kia Classic on Sunday, Karrie Webb’s got some confidence going with a pair of LPGA titles this season, and Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr look like such good fits at Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Course.
Here’s how Par 5 makes the odds this week for the top five favorites:
- Tseng 3/1 – Though she’s just 22, Tseng’s already shown the ability to summon her best in the largest events. She’s won three of the last 11 major championships. Tseng looks ready to join her idol as the only players to win back-to-back titles since the Kraft Nabisco became a major 28 years ago. Annika Sorenstam won in 2001-02.
- Pettersen 5/1 – In three of her last four starts at Kraft, Pettersen’s finished second or tied for second.
- Webb 6/1 – A two-time winner at Kraft (2000, ’06), Webb’s finished fifth or better seven times in the event.
- Kerr 6/1 – In her last nine starts on the Dinah Shore Course, Kerr’s finished fifth or better five times, including a tie for second when Brittany Lincicome won two years ago.
- Shin 10/1 – In her fourth start at Kraft last year, Shin turned a corner. She tied for fifth while finishing the championship under par for the first time.
Anyone have a dart to pick this week’s winner at the Shell Houston Open?
Choosing a PGA Tour winner is maddening work these days, with the average ranking this year being 167th.
So watch out for Jamie Lovemark and J.J. Henry, the closest to the average winner’s ranking in this week’s field at No. 170 and 173, respectively.
Here are the rankings of this year’s winners:
- Jonathan Byrd (Hyundai Tournament of Champions), No. 121
- Mark Wilson (Sony Open), No. 237
- Jhonattan Vegas (Bob Hope Classic), No. 187
- Bubba Watson (Farmer’s Insurance Open), No. 33
- Mark Wilson (Waste Management Phoenix Open), No. 91.
- D.A. Points (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), No. 167
- Aaron Baddeley (Northern Trust Open), No. 224
- Johnson Wagner (Mayakoba Golf Classic), No. 377
- Luke Donald (WGC-Accenture Match Play), No. 9
- Rory Sabbatini (Honda Classic), No. 102
- Michael Bradley (Puerto Rico Open), No. 562
- Nick Watney (WGC-Cadillac Championship), No. 31
- Gary Woodland (Transitions Championship), No. 153
- Martin Laird (Arnold Palmer Invitational), No. 40
Can you peak too early for the Masters?
In 74 Masters tournaments, only four players have won the PGA Tour event the week before and gone on to win at Augusta National.
Phil Mickelson’s the last to do so.
Mickelson won the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta in 2006 and a week later claimed the second of his three green jackets.
The only other players to do so were Sandy Lyle in 1988, Art Wall in ’59 and Ralph Guldahl in ’39.
Any room left for a late Masters’ invite?
The beauty of the Masters bringing back the practice of inviting PGA Tour winners looms as a potential bonus at the Shell Houston Open this week.
The field list grows by one if the winner in Houston hasn’t already earned a Masters’ invite.
Since Masters chairman Billy Payne announced four years ago that Augusta National was re-instituting invitations for PGA Tour winners, Johnson Wagner’s the only player to win the week before the Masters to gain a late invite. Wagner won the Shell Houston Open in 2008.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell