Yani's year


Yani Tseng’s shadow moved over Suzann Pettersen.

You could not see it, but you could feel it with Pettersen assessing her year going into the season-ending CME Group Titleholders Championship in Orlando, Fla., last week.

Pettersen won three times in 2011, twice in LPGA events and once on the Ladies European Tour. She’s No. 2 in the Rolex World Rankings. She was a Solheim Cup star, helping the Euros win for the first time in eight years.

Still, there was no escaping Tseng’s towering presence in Pettersen’s final evaluation.

“It’s been a very nice year, but when Yani has won seven events, it makes you feel not so great,” Pettersen said.

Tseng’s shadow fell over the entire women’s game with her rise as its dominant, new force. With 11 worldwide titles, the seven LPGA titles, including two majors, Tseng separated herself from the pack that was battling to succeed the retired Lorena Ochoa as the game’s best female player.

There were other highlights in 2011, of course:

• The Europeans didn’t just win the Solheim Cup, they transformed it. They made it matter more than it’s ever mattered with their dramatic late charge to upset the Americans at Killeen Castle in Ireland. Pettersen, Caroline Hedwall and Azahara Munoz engineered late comebacks that made for the most exciting final 30 minutes in Solheim Cup history. The Euro victory was the continent’s first since 2003.

• American Stacy Lewis broke through to make her first LPGA title a major championship, staring down Tseng in a final-round pairing to win the Kraft Nabisco in March.

• Lexi Thompson became the youngest winner in LPGA history, claiming the Navistar Classic in September at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old. She made more news shortly after when LPGA commissioner Mike Whan granted her a waiver of the tour rule requiring members be at least 18, opening the door for Thompson to claim an exemption to become a full-time LPGA member next year.

Karrie Webb won the inaugural RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, a unique event where tour pros played for designated charities, donating all their winnings to causes special to them. The week – the invention of second-year commissioner Whan – was a tribute to the women who created the tour 61 years ago. In a special setting, three of the founders – Louise Suggs, Shirley Spork and Marilynn Smith – sat in a box beside the 18th green at Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix greeting players as they finished their rounds.

• Pettersen (Sybase Match Play, Safeway Classic), Webb (HSBC Women’s, RR Donnelley Founders Cup) and Brittany Lincicome (Shoprite, CN Canadian Women’s Open) each won two LPGA events.

So Yeon Ryu defeated Hee Kyung Seo in a U.S. Women’s Open playoff at the Broadmoor featuring two more rising young South Korean stars.

• Commissioner Whan made perhaps the boldest stroke of the year, announcing the Evian Masters in France would become the LPGA’s fifth major championship beginning in 2013.

Still, there was no trumping Tseng in 2011.

When the year opened, Tseng was No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She didn’t wait long to make her move, winning her first three worldwide starts, the Taifong Ladies Open in Taiwan, the Women’s Australian Open and the Australian Ladies Masters. She seized the No. 1 ranking a week before the LPGA season opened and then won the LPGA opener, the Honda Thailand.

The year ends with Tseng at No. 1 having doubled the world-ranking points of Pettersen, her nearest pursuer.

Tseng’s dominance could be seen between the ropes as well as in the season-ending stats. Tseng won her second consecutive Rolex Player of the Year award and her first Vare Trophy for low scoring average (69.66). She also led the tour in birdies (4.7 per round), driving distance (269.2) and greens in regulation (75.1 percent).

Opponents noticed a difference even in Tseng’s body language this year.

Na Yeon Choi said she can see the growing confidence in the way Tseng walks now.

“She walks like this, with chest like this,” Choi said, throwing her shoulders back and chest out. “I can see her confidence, when she’s doing her routine. She smiles when she walks to the ball, in her setup. It’s kind of scary.”

Tseng might have smiled more than any other player this past year, but she left a lot of frowns in her wake with fellow tour pros like Pettersen trying to figure out how to catch her.