RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Na Yeon Choi didn’t mince words.
After finishing second to Yani Tseng at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup two weeks ago, Choi bluntly summarized the challenge facing the women’s game today.
“I don’t know who’s going to stop her,” Choi said.
If not Choi, the Rolex World No. 2, who is going to stop the surging No. 1 at this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club?
Maybe the LPGA needs a black magic woman.
With Tseng innocently stumbling into another question of superstition misstep this week, we meander amusingly into supernatural possibilities.
Last year, Tseng alerted the superstitious among us when she stepped to the first tee on Sunday morning of the Kraft Nabisco Championship and hoisted the Dinah Shore Trophy. Folks who pay attention to these things knew the possibility of a jinx was in play the moment Tseng embraced the silver prize. A premature hoist didn’t bode well.
As it turns out, Tseng couldn’t close the deal, losing her two-shot lead over a final-round duel with Stacy Lewis.
Tseng said she used to see Lorena Ochoa touch the trophy in that way and thought it brought her good luck.
“Never again,” Tseng said.
Now, this week, Tseng fueled her fellow pros with some supernatural hope once more. Asked if she was satisfied with her celebratory leap into Poppie’s Pond when she won two years ago, Tseng said friends made fun her of her form and so she was practicing possible Poppie’s Pond leaps into her Orlando pool. She said it innocently, in good-natured fun governed by the spirit of the question, but you can imagine how the revelation went over in the locker room.
Yani is practicing what?
“I think that’s kind of . . . I just wouldn’t do that,” said Lewis, the defending champ.
A superstitious player wouldn't want to conjur a jinx.
At 23, Tseng isn’t unbeatable, not yet, but she’s becoming awfully tough to beat. Tseng tees it up Thursday looking to win for the fourth time in six starts this year, for the 10th time in her last 20 overall LPGA starts. She begins her quest to win her sixth overall major, her third in the last five tries, her fifth in the last nine.
“I still think it’s possible to play better than her,” said Suzann Pettersen, the Rolex World No. 3.
Lewis did so with a strong Sunday performance a year ago to make her first LPGA title a major. With the rough down this year, the course suits Tseng even more now. A power player, Tseng can bomb it around the Dinah Shore Course with even more impunity.
“Every player comes here to win,” Tseng said. “We don’t come here to finish second.”
Tseng comes with the motivation of remembering her final-round stumble last year. She also comes knowing the LPGA major championship schedule extends to five majors next year, with the Evian Masters becoming a major. That means Tseng’s last best chance at becoming the first woman to win the Grand Slam is this year.
“I did think about that, because I am playing great this year,” Tseng said. “I think I have a chance to do it. I’ve won this tournament before, so it gives me a lot of confidence that I can do it again. I like the Women’s British Open and Wegmans, majors I won before, so I feel better. But the U.S. Open, I think that’s the toughest for me because every time I get there I just feel different.”
If nobody lets loose a herd of black cats at Blackwolf Run for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, maybe this is her year there, too.