RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The Kraft Nabisco Championship feels as if it is Yani Tseng’s to lose.
That is bad news for the field heading into Sunday’s final round.
Tseng just doesn’t beat herself anymore, not when she gets in this kind of position.
With a sluggish 1-under-par 71 in heavy, gusting winds Saturday at Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore Course, Tseng battled hard to keep a share of the lead.
At 9-under 207, Tseng is tied with Sweden’s Karin Sjodin, a shot ahead of South Korea’s Haeji Kang. Eight players are within three shots of the lead, but Tseng's shadow falls over all of them.
The last eight times Tseng, 23, has led or shared the lead after 54 holes, she has won seven times. Her lone failure in that run was last year’s Kraft Nabisco. She learned a lot losing that title to Stacy Lewis. She used it as motivation to win two majors last year. It’s still helping her.
“I learned a lot,” Tseng said. “I learned if you miss a putt, you keep smiling, you keep your chin up.”
The lesson helped Tseng fight through adversity on Saturday. The winds kicked up shortly after Tseng teed off in the final pairing. She played more holes in winds gusting to 30 mph than any other player.
Tseng managed through her most erratic round of this tournament, making five birdies and four bogeys. At the 11th hole, she and Kang were put on the clock. Tseng responded by hitting her next two shots into the trees and making bogey. Two holes later, she missed a 2-footer for par.
“I was kind of thinking too much,” Tseng said. “I tried too hard to play better, but I hung in there. I just tried to smile more.”
With the heavy winds expected to continue in a storm over Saturday night, the Kraft Nabisco final-round tee times were revamped. Instead of twosomes, they’ll be going off in threesomes with the leaders expected to go off at 3:10 p.m. ET. The change will allow maintenance staff more time to clean up debris and set the course.
The new groupings mean Tseng will be playing with both Sjodin and Kang.
If Sjodin and Kang overtake Tseng for the title, it will be a bigger upset than Jack Fleck knocking off Ben Hogan at Olympic Club in 1955. Tseng is No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings. Sjodin is No. 216, Kang No. 120.
Sjodin, 28, and Kang, 21, have never won LPGA titles.
“You play your game,” Sjodin said. “I’m playing against the golf course. Whoever I play with isn’t really that big a deal.”
Maybe not to Sjodin, but Tseng is a really big deal, the biggest in the women’s game today.