Yani Tseng comes into the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA's first major of the 2012 season, showing signs that she has not missed a beat coming off last year's dominating performance on Tour.
The 23-year-old from Taiwan has won the last two LPGA tournaments and three of the first five events of the season. Her win last week at the Kia Classic made her just the second youngest player in LPGA history to reach 15 career victories.
Tseng, the number one ranked player in the world, has also won two of the past four majors including the 2010 edition of the Kraft. A victory this weekend would put her within two points of qualifying for the Hall of Fame; she has 23 of the 27 points needed but will have to wait until 2018 for formal induction if she meets the criteria.
Last year, however, in one of her few missteps, she held the lead going into the final round only to lost to Stacy Lewis, who became only the fourth player in LPGA history to record her first win at the major. It was the last time Tseng lost a tournament going into the final round with the lead.
"When I look back, I was very happy that I didn't win because that's why I'm learning," said Tseng. "If you keep winning, you don't know what you're going to learn."
Tseng is one of only three players in the field with five major victories on their resume - Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak are the others. In fact, 49 of the top 50 players in the world are expected to compete with only Juli Inkster missing as she continues to recuperate from elbow surgery.
Shanshan Feng, the first player from Mainland China to win on the Ladies European Tour earlier this month, is another player who comes into the tournament on a hot streak having recorded her third top-5 result of the season last week.
South Korean Na Yeon Choi, who recently took over the number two world ranking, is a five time winner on the LPGA and already owns a pair of runner-up finishes this year.
Lexi Thompson comes into the event having yet to show the form she displayed at the end of last season which raised expectations that she could be the next great American player on Tour. So far this season, the 17-year-old has yet to record a top-10 result in four tournaments. Her best showing was a tie for 14th in Thailand.
Michelle Wie is also looking to get back on track after missing the cut at last week's Kia Classic and a 59th place showing at the HSBC event in China.
Charlottetown's Lorie Kane and Alena Sharp of Hamilton are the only Canadians in the field. Kane is off to a slow start on the LPGA Tour after a successful swing through Australia and New Zealand to start the year. She missed the cut last week and finished tied for 43rd in the LPGA's first domestic U.S. event in Phoenix. Sharp has missed the cut in both LPGA events after a positive beginning on the ladies Grasshopper mini-tour, where she had a pair of wins in three events.
The Kraft Nabisco Championship began as a 54-hole event in 1972 with Jane Blalock as its first winner. It didn't become a major until 1983. Amy Alcott, the tournament's first "major" winner, also began the traditional leap into Poppie's Pond, a cemented, fresh-water area cut off from the rest of the lake which surrounds around the 18th green at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club. This year's winner won't have to worry about potential injury after Lewis' mother suffered a badly sprained leg as a result of the celebratory leap last year after officials unveiled a revamped jump zone on Monday.
“It’s not really in response to (the injury),” said tournament director Gabe Codding. “It’s something that we looked at. Anything that we had to do, it felt like the appropriate thing to do, to have a jump zone and have an area where a mishap couldn’t happen again. It was important for us to address that issue.”
“It’s completely vertical now, where as before it had a two-foot ledge then it was sloping."
Lewis says if she's fortunate enough to win again this year, she's prepared to give her mother another shot at redemption.
“I told her if I win again she’s jumping in with me,” said Lewis. “If I win again, it’s just me and her.”
THIS WEEK IN GOLF
LPGA TOUR: KRAFT NABISCO CHAMPIONSHIP
COURSE: Mission Hills Country Club, Dinah Shore Tournament Course (6,738 yards, par 72).
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday, noon-3 p.m., 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Friday, 1:30-4:30 a.m., noon-3 p.m., 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30-4:30 a.m., 4:30-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, midnight-4 a.m., 4:30-8:30 p.m.; Monday, midnight-4 a.m.).
OH CANADA: Lorie Kane, Alena Sharp
NOTES: Stacy Lewis is back to defend her title at the first major of the LPGA season. Lewis defeated 2010 winner Yani Tseng by three strokes. ...Tseng comes into the event having won the last two events and three of the first five tournaments this year. She has had at least a share of the lead after all eight rounds the last two weeks in Phoenix and Carlsbad. ...The event, first played in 1972 as the Colgate Dinah Shore, became a major in 1983. ... Morgan Pressel won in 2007 to become the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days. .
PGA TOUR: HOUSTON OPEN
COURSE: Redstone Golf Club, Tournament Course (7,457 yards, par 72).
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m., 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m., 9-11:30 p.m.) and NBC (Saturday-Sunday, 3-6 p.m.).
OH CANADA: Graham DeLaet, David Hearn
NOTES: This is the last week for players who are not already exempt to earn a spot in next week's Masters tournament, the first major of the season. Ernie Els, who is in the field this week, is one of those who needs a victory to extend his streak of Augusta appearances. ... Also in the field this week, defending champion Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, British Open champion Darren Clarke, PGA winner Keegan Bradley, Padraig Harrington and Fred Couples, the 2003 winner on the adjacent Members Course, who is coming off a Champions Tour victory Sunday in Mississippi.
EUROPEAN TOUR: SICILIAN OPEN
COURSE: Verdura Golf and Spa Resort (7,375 yards, par 72).
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 8:30-11:30 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7-11 a.m.).
OH CANADA: Andrew Parr of London, Ont., is making only his second Tour start this year, first since the Joburg Open back in January
NOTES: France's Raphael Jacquelin won in a Monday finish last year, beating England's Anthony Wall by a stroke at Donnafugata. ...Jacquelin is in the field along with 18-year-old Italian star Matteo Manassero, who missed out on qualifying for the Masters last weekend. John Daly, Rich Beem and Tom Lewis are also in the field
ASIAN TOUR: Panasonic Open India
COURSE: Delhi Golf Club, New Delhi
OH CANADA: Ron Harvey, Jr., Lindsay Renolds, Matt Johnston
NGA PRO GOLF TOUR: Cutter Creek Golf Classic
COURSE: Cutter Creek Golf Club, Snow Hill, NC
OH CANADA: Yohan Benson, Marc-Etienne Bussieres, David Markle, Louis-Alexandre Pitre, Eric Ross, Sebastian Szirmak, Riley Wheeldon
eGOLF PROFESSIONAL TOUR: River Run Classic
COURSE: River Run Country Club, Davidson, N.C.
OH CANADA: Cam Burke, Matt Hill, David Lang, Will Mitchell, Brad Revell, Gavin Smith
GATEWAY PRO TOUR: Lone Tree Golf Club
COURSE: Lone Tree Golf Club, Arizona
OH CANADA: Kent Eger, Mitch Gillis, Tyler Mancini, Steve Shantz, Darren Wallace
ALL-AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL GOLF TOUR: Tour Championship Qualifier, Arizona (Mar. 26-one day event)
COURSE: Sundance Golf Club, Buckeye, Arizona
OH CANADA: Tyler Mancini of Winnipeg finished in a tie for first after shooting 3-under 69; Jerry Christiansen of Saskatoon finished in a tie for fourth after shooting 70