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Ten years later, another rookie wins LPGA

Ten years later, another rookie wins LPGA

Yani Tseng stared at the five feet between her ball and the hole, a distance that might have seemed much longer to any other 19-year-old rookie playing in only her third major championship.
Considering what she had been through at Bulle Rock, that was the easy part.
Tseng opened with a 73, the highest start by a winner in the McDonald's LPGA Championship in 35 years. She started the final round Sunday four shots out of the lead and in the same group with Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 player in women's golf who was determined to capture her third consecutive major.
Right behind was Annika Sorenstam, trying to make history with a fourth victory in this major.
Tseng outplayed them all, closing with a 4-under 68 to get into a playoff with Maria Hjorth. And on the first two playoff holes, Tseng stood to the side of the green as Hjorth had birdie putts of 18 and 12 feet to win.
After an hour of high drama, and on the fourth sudden-death hole, Tseng choked down on a 6-iron and hit a flawless shot to 5 feet behind the flag. Hjorth missed her birdie putt from 12 feet, turning the stage over to a teenager.
"I wasn't that nervous when I teed off," Tseng said. "I just tell myself, 'Just make this putt and win a major championship.'"
That she did, dropping to a crouch and clenching her fists.
She became the first rookie to win a major since Se Ri Pak in 1998 at the LPGA Championship, the youngest winner of this major (beating Sandra Post, who was 20 in 1968) and the second-youngest woman to win a major. Morgan Pressel, whom Tseng beat at the North & South Amateur three years ago, was 18 when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year.
"I can't believe I just won a major," Tseng said. "Everything is coming so fast."
Ochoa's bid for a third straight major, which would have sent her to the U.S. Women's Open later this month with a chance to join Tiger Woods and Mickey Wright as the only players to win four professional majors in a row, ended with a 14-hole drought of birdies.
Sorenstam also was dreadful with the putter, twice missing birdie putts inside 5 feet on par 5s, and the final hole was cruel. After walking up the 18th green to warm applause _ she is retiring at the end of the year _ Sorenstam had a 12-foot birdie putt from the fringe that would have put her in the playoff.
Hjorth appeared to have fate on her side when a fairway metal headed for the hazard instead ricocheted off the rocks in a creek and bounded across the green, turning bogey into birdie. Then she chipped in on the next hole for birdie and the lead.
She closed with a 71, and had 18-foot and 12-foot birdie putts to win in the playoff, both narrowly missing.
Despite her age and inexperience, Tseng felt right at home in the playoff, which is all about match play. She won 19 times as an amateur, first gaining recognition in 2004 when she rallied to beat Michelle Wie _ at a time when Wie was on top of her game _ at the U.S. Women's Public Links Amateur.
Not many would be surprised if this were only the start for Tseng, just as it was for Pak.
Tseng dueled with Ochoa earlier this year at the Ginn Open outside Orlando, Fla., making too many mistakes on the back nine as Ochoa pulled away for her fourth straight victory. The only glitch Sunday came on the 13th, where everyone struggled. Tseng went from the right rough to the left rough, and salvaged a bogey with a tough chip and two putts from 30 feet.
"She is a great player," Ochoa said. "It's very impressive. She is just a rookie and the way she handles herself ... and I really like her. I wish her the best."
This major ended up much better for Tseng than it did her countryman, friend and part-time mentor, T.C. Chen, who lives about an hour away from where she grew up.
Chen was infamous for a double-hit on a chip out of deep rough, and he wound up one shot behind Andy North in the 1985 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. He became known as "Two Chip" Chen.
"He always teach me something because I'm a rookie," Tseng said.
Oddly enough, she never saw a highlight of that double-hit until last week, when she was watching U.S. Open highlights.
"That's not really hard shot for that," she said, breaking into laugher. "But don't tell him that, because I feel bad."
There were laughs all around, which brings out the personality in Tseng. She is engaging enough that her pro-am partners from the Sybase Classic last month came down to Bulle Rock, giving her a boisterous cheering section.
And who's the most famous golfer in Taiwan now?
"Me and T.C. Chen," she said. "Both very famous."
But only one is a major champion.


Updated : 2021-07-31 12:41 GMT+08:00