Yani Tseng continues to baffle
The strange case of former No. 1 women's golfer Yani Tseng took another twist this past weekend. She had her best finish in more than a year, tying for second at the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Great, right? Yes, but she certainly didn't seem very happy after the tournament -- and for good reason. Just when it appeared as if she had a chance to make eventual winner Lizette Salas sweat for her first LPGA victory, Tseng's charge fizzled.
Over the last three holes, Tseng never put her foot on the gas. Not moving forward, anyway. Rather, on the last hole, she almost floored it going in reverse.
Tseng finished with a double-bogey on No. 18, knocking the ball around on the green more like she was hurriedly concluding a pro-am than trying to close out a tournament.
To finish this hole [with] like four putts is really bad. Just screwed up my whole day. I'm not really happy.Yani Tseng
"Didn't pick the right club for the second shot," Tseng said of the bitter pill on the 72nd hole. "Could be much better, closer to the hole. To finish this hole [with] like 4 putts is really bad. Just screwed up my whole day. I'm not really happy."
And yet Tseng still shot a final-round 69. Admittedly, she should have had second place to herself instead of sharing it with two others, but it was still her top finish since a solo runner-up showing at the Women's Australian Open in February 2013.
So was Kingsmill an indication that Tseng is "back"? Or just another fleeting glimpse of the player who used to be atop the LPGA?
We'll have to keep watching to find out. When Tseng started the 2013 season with a second place and a tie for third, it seemed as if the "old Yani" might have returned. The rest of last year wasn't very good, though. Tseng had just two more top-10 finishes. She ended the year tying for 40th at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship in her native country.
So far in 2014, Tseng has a tie for fifth -- in Thailand in February -- but also has missed three cuts.
Tseng once held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for 109 weeks. She didn't just drop from that, she skydived. Going into Kingsmill, she was ranked 53rd.
Now, Tseng is up 12 spots to No. 41 after her showing in Virginia. But mentally, she will have to get past how this tournament ended for her and instead focus on the good things she did make happen there.
Overall, it's been a stars-and-stripes kind of season on the LPGA Tour. Sunday, Salas became the sixth American to triumph in 2014, meaning U.S. players have won more than half of the 11 events -- including the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, claimed by teen Lexi Thompson.
Tseng also has a Kraft Nabisco trophy in her case; she won that major in April 2010. That started a remarkable two-year run in which she won 13 of her 15 LPGA titles and reigned as the tour's top player.
But the last of Tseng's victories was in late March 2012. And then what started as a case of "Hmmm, Yani seems to be hitting a speed bump" turned into a full-fledged free fall.
The reality is that a two-year drought is not unusual, even for good LPGA players. The tour, which features the best from around the globe, really is that strong. Salas, a former standout collegian at Southern Cal, just won her first tour title at age 24.
And let's remember that Tseng just turned 25 in January. How crazy is that? In golf, 25 is still really young, despite outlier extraordinaire Lydia Ko threatening to take over the No. 1 ranking even though she turned 17 in April.
The success of teen players such as Thompson and Ko -- who finished tied for second and tied for fifth, respectively, at Kingsmill -- has skewed the view on how much we're supposed to be surprised about Tseng's dry spell. Of course, even Tseng herself has contributed to that, having won five majors by age 22.
Tseng is not exactly over the hill. Realistically, she hasn't even gotten to the hill yet.
However, Tseng was extremely good for long enough that she seemed established as a regular contender to win for the foreseeable future. Who would have thought in the midst of her seven-victory 2011 season that three years later, she would be scrounging for positive signs?
Tseng has analyzed herself endlessly and been analyzed by others to a similar degree. Asked during the Golf Channel's broadcast about Tseng's plummet, veteran Juli Inkster summed it up like this: "That's golf."
Inkster might have nailed it right there. It doesn't take much in this game to make your confidence start eroding. In Tseng's case, though, what started as erosion in 2012 turned into a landslide.
Thus, Tseng has been in the process of reclimbing the mountain. She talks about not smiling nearly as much as she used to and not feeling happy from the inside. Maybe that's an inevitable part of growing up that isn't only about golf.
After just missing an eagle putt on No. 15 Sunday, Tseng tapped in her third birdie in four holes. At that point, she was 11 under, and the leader Salas was still in reach. At the very least, Tseng could have parred out and made Salas worry a little as she sought to close out her first LPGA victory.
Tseng got the par on 16. Then she should have given herself at least a birdie try on the par-3 17th but didn't land her tee shot anywhere close to the hole. That Tseng seemed so conservative (or tentative?) there was disappointing. She's made more than $9.5 million in prize money during her career. She didn't need to be worried about protecting herself for second-place money. She needed to be aggressive and try to make something happen.
But she didn't. Or couldn't. Another par. That wouldn't have been so bad without the implosion that followed on 18.
So Tseng picked up a check for $90,642 and, if nothing else, bounced back from missing the cut in her previous event. She now has two top-five finishes in 2014. As irritated as she was with herself for how she ended things Sunday, maybe the door really is opening again.
The thing is, you have to slip through it when you get the opportunity. It can close pretty quickly. Tseng knows that all too well.
"It's a good week compared to others because ... I can have a chance to win a tournament now," Tseng said. "So still looking forward for another tournament."