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A league of her own

Yani Tseng
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – If there were any doubts, Yani Tseng erased them Sunday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

Tseng has officially arrived as the dominant new force in the women’s game.

With her brilliant runaway at Locust Hill Country Club, Tseng separated herself in the race to see who's going to succeed Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa as the LPGA’s best player.

The Yani Tseng Era’s begun in earnest.

“Yani is a phenomenal golfer,” Suzann Pettersen said. “She is the new No. 1, and she pushes the edges like Annika used to do, like Lorena used to do. Now, Yani’s getting an edge on us.”

With a flurry of birdies, Tseng didn’t march through the record book so much as she stormed through it.

A closing 6-under-par 66 pushed Tseng to a place no player in the modern era’s ever been.

At 22, she claimed her fourth major championship before any man or woman since Young Tom Morris.

At 19 under, Tseng equaled the record for lowest score in relation to par in a men’s or women’s major.

Her 10-shot rout wasn’t as large as Cristie Kerr’s 12-shot romp in this event a year ago, but it still stands as the fifth largest victory margin in women’s major championship history.

“Walking up the 18th hole, I almost cried, I was so emotional,” Tseng said.

Remarkably, Tseng heads to the U.S. Women’s Open in less than two weeks looking to complete the career grand slam. She’s already claimed six worldwide victories this year, three LPGA titles. She’ll head to the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs looking to win her third consecutive LPGA event.

With a formidable combination of power and precision, Tseng overwhelmed Locust Hill. Cindy LaCrosse, playing alongside Tseng, had the best vantage point to see history in the making.

“I knew she hit it long, but she outdrove me by about 60 yards on No. 3,” LaCrosse said. “I was like, `Oh man, this is going to be a long day.’ That was kind of embarrassing.

“It was inspiring watching her.”

Tseng got a hug from her swing coach, Gary Gilchrist, after leaving the scoring trailer.

“Today was such an impressive round of golf, it’s unbelievable,” Gilchrist said. “It was one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen, coming in the final round of a major championship.”

Gilchrist was pleased the way Tseng bounced back from losing the final-round lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in the year’s first major. They’ve spent almost as much time since then talking about being comfortable with the expectations of being the world’s best player as they have Tseng’s swing.

Tseng’s losing a two-shot lead to Stacy Lewis at Kraft hung over this major.

“Yani’s the bounce-back queen,” Gilchrist said.

Sunday’s performance left fellow players gaping as they surveyed leaderboards.

Paula Creamer said she was at the 17th hole when she saw Tseng racing to a record low.

“Incredible,” she said.

Kerr, the only player in the field who knows what running away like that feels like, was equally impressed.

“She’s in the prime of her career,” Kerr said. “She’s found her stride at a young age.”

Stacy Lewis came from behind to beat Tseng in the final round at Kraft, but she could see the chase to catch Tseng goes beyond the LPGA Championship.

“We have to get better,” Lewis said.

Tseng’s bounce back wasn’t just from losing the Kraft. It was from a stumble at the first tee at Locust Hill.

With Tseng in the backswing of her opening drive, a photographer fired away. She hooked her drive in the left rough and glared back at the photographer. She ended up making bogey at the first hole.

“We’ve spoken about things like that, about how we need to expect the unexpected,” Gilchrist said. “If you are going to allow those things to bother you, you’re going to be in trouble.”

At the second hole, Tseng carved a 9-iron to 18 inches to set up an easy bounce-back birdie.

“It was the turning point,” Tseng said of following her opening bogey with three consecutive birdies.

At the Kraft Nabisco, Tseng admitted making a mistake grabbing the Dinah Shore Trophy at the first tee before the final round began. She said she didn’t even see the LPGA Championship Trophy on display at the first tee Sunday at Locust Hill. Afterward, though, with the trophy aside her in the post-round news conference, she beamed at it.

“I can touch it now,” she cracked.

Tseng looks like she’ll be touching a lot of trophies in the coming years.