ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Yani Tseng can run away.
She’s got the game to give the Wegmans LPGA Championship another runaway winner.
“With Yani in the lead, you don’t want to get too far behind because it’s tough to catch her when she is hot,” Paula Creamer said.
Tseng was radiating some heat Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club, setting the pace with a 6-under-par 66 to take the early lead. She was firing at flagsticks in an impressive display of shot making, converting eight birdies from 8 feet or less.
“When Yani’s putter gets going, you’ve got to beat her,” Creamer said. “You’ve also got to stay right with her.”
That’s just what Creamer did in the first round, coming out nearly as hot as Tseng with a 67.
The year’s second major is off to an intriguing start with two of the big names in women’s golf at the top of the leaderboard.
Tseng’s the No. 1 player in the world. She’s already won five times around the world this season, claiming two LPGA titles. She’s coming off a victory at the State Farm Classic in her last start, but she’s got some baggage trying to run away this week. She’s got the memory of being run down by Stacy Lewis in the year’s first major.
Tseng, 22, looked like she was going to slam the door on her fourth major championship at the Kraft Nabisco back in March before Lewis came from behind to beat her in the final round.
Tseng was asked Thursday if she’s motivated by that loss.
“Actually, last night, I did think a little bit about Kraft,” Tseng said.
Tseng said she shared that with a confidant before Thursday’s round, but she was reassured. She was reminded that even Jack Nicklaus finished second in more majors (19) than he won (18). She was told even the greatest players fail to convert chances and she needed to learn from that.
“It gives me more confidence trying not to put pressure on myself,” Tseng said. “It’s not a big deal. I have lots of majors to play.”
Tseng gained the No. 1 ranking for the first time in February with her hot start in Asia and Australia, where she won three times to open the season. When she teed it up at the Kia Classic, her caddie was presented a bib with “No. 1” on it, signifying her top ranking. It felt like a bulls-eye.
“Becoming the No. 1 player in the world’s a lifelong dream,” said Gary Gilchrist, Tseng’s swing coach. “When you all of a sudden attain that, what’s it mean to you? All of a sudden, everyone expects you to play well every single week. She had to accept that’s not going to happen because this is the game of golf.”
Gilchrist sees Tseng becoming more comfortable with the expectations. He sees her accepting the fact that she doesn’t have to win the LPGA Championship this week or the U.S. Women’s Open next month to reach her dreams.
“She has her whole golfing life,” Gilchrist said.
Tseng didn’t look like she was feeling any pressure starting on Thursday. She stiffed a pitching wedge to 3 feet at the second hole to set up her first birdie, then carved another wedge to 3 feet at the third hole for another birdie. She stuck a 6-iron to 5 feet at the fifth hole for a third birdie to take the tournament lead.
“This course is so tight, I just hit it on the fairways more,” Tseng said. “More chances for birdies.”
Tseng and Gilchrist huddled after the Kraft Nabisco to talk about the final round there. Tseng had a two-shot lead on Lewis going into Sunday. With the command Tseng showed in the third round, it seemed like a safe lead. Tseng was dominating statistically. She led the field in driving distance, greens in regulation and putting going into that final day, but Lewis beat her anyway.
Gilchrist told Tseng she shouldn’t beat herself up. He told her she didn’t lose so much as Lewis won. It happens.
“I tried my best, and Stacy played good” Tseng said. “I’m happy for her. That’s all I can do.”
Tseng will be looking to see if she can muster her best again this week, and if her best will be good enough.