Yang, who was allowed to pursue golf in her country because she showed promise in the game, showed the rest of the 144-player field that she promised to put up a fight despite her rookie status and limited tournament experience. With a first-round score of 70, she holds a two-stroke lead at 137 (-7) over Mee Na Lee of Seoul, Korea, who fired a 69 today to move into second at 139.
'I have prepared for this,' said Yang, 28, through her California coach, James Chen. 'My goal has been to come to the United States to play tournaments and I like the challenge. This is my first big tournament.'
Big, is right. Big, as in larger than the 60-to-80-player fields she is used to with the West Coast Ladies Golf Tour in California, where she won twice in March. Big, as in more women professionals than she could imagine coming from a super-size nation with less than 40 women golf professionals in the entire country. Big, as in unbelievably impressive for a player who scored in the high-70s and low-80s as recently as two years ago.
'Maybe today, I perform pretty good,' said Yang in her own words.
But while Yang is the epitome of the 'little engine that could,' she will have her work cut out for her in Sundays final around against a couple of Mercedes from Korea. Lee, along with Kyeong Bae of Seoul, who also carded a 67 today to move into third place at 140 (-4), have golf resumes that span the Pacific.
At age 18, Bae already has won twice on the Korean LPGA Tour and was ranked sixth on the KLPGAs Money List in 2003. She turned pro four years ago and arrived in California in January to begin studying English in preparation for her rookie season on the Futures Tour.
'I came to America and had a big dream,' said Bae, who hit 17 greens today on the 6,453-yard Sunrise Course at the Underwood Golf Complex. 'I will trust myself. I will try my best.'
Lee, 23, brought with her to her first Futures Tour season a resume that includes four tournament wins on the KLPGA, including honors as Most Valuable Player, top rookie and No. 1 on the money list in 2002. Like Bae, she might be a Futures Tour rookie, but she is far from inexperienced.
Early first-round leader Lisa Chang of Los Angeles, and Brittney Bacon of Minot, N.D., are tied for fourth at 141.
And while the wind and desert sands have held an upper hand for much of the week, making the tournament feel more like military maneuvers on the surrounding grounds of the U.S. Armys Ft. Bliss base than a 54-hole test of golf, Sundays final round will produce the Futures Tours own elite soldiers of the sod. After all, the battle is universal in golf, regardless of the flag.
Seventy-three players in the 144-player field made the 36-hole cut at 151 (+7).
Sundays final round will begin at 8 a.m. from the first tee, with the leaders going off the first tee at 11:36 a.m.