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Yani Tseng Weathers Storm(s) and Wins LPGA Founders Cup

Huff’s Stuff Arizona Golf Blog – Arizona Golf Authority

Arizona Golf Courses - Courtesy LPGA Tour - Arizona Golf Authority

Courtesy LPGA Tour

PHOENIX, Arizona – The galleries for the first three days of the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup were not all that large to start with. But when the weather turned ugly on Sunday, they got a lot smaller for the final round at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix.

And then they got smaller . . . and then even smaller.

Blame it on three rain delays – one that included thunder and lightning and another highlighted by hail– and temperatures that dipped into the upper 40s. Oh, yes, and don’t forget about the winds that gusted from 25- to 35-mph.

The interruptions, which totaled about three hours, pushed the finish to the edge of darkness, and just to add insult to injury, the live telecast on the Golf Channel was pre-empted just as the leaders were coming down the stretch in favor of the final round of the Champions Tour. (Can it get any worse?)

Unfortunately, it was another strange chapter in Phoenix for the LPGA, which had hoped for some positive news this week for its first tournament of 2012 to be held in the United States.

Fortunately, Yani Tseng, future Hall of Famer, saved the day — at least what was left of it. And the Taiwanese star did it in what’s becoming her calling card.

“A little drama out there today,’’ quipped Tseng, who looked anything like the No. 1 player in the world after back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8 — a stumble that left her three shots back of Ai Miyazato.

But Tseng jump-started her game nicely after the second rain delay by reeling off five birdies in the next six holes beginning at No. 10. She never looked back even if it got a little dicey over the last three holes due to the fading daylight.

“I’m proud of myself. I hung in there on the back side,’’ said the 22-year-old after Miyazato and Na Yeon Choi, the world’s No. 2, got to within a shot of the lead when both made birdies at the 16th hole.

But that was the last red number that fell on this dark afternoon as all three players parred out. Not that many fans got to see it, especially those who had been watching the Golf Channel.

Asked what was the spark that lit up the back nine and gave Tseng her 14th career victory and second in the past three tournaments, she elaborated with her usual enthusiasm that belied someone who had just spent eight hours on — and off — the golf course.

“I told myself, ‘You have nine more holes — OK, three shots back. You still have a good chance on the back nine,’ “said Tseng, who closed with a 4-under-par 68 and a winning total of 18-under 270.

“I said, ‘Just play like the first day.’ Try to make birdie every hole. I played 7-under (on the back nine Thursday), so maybe I can do it again. I played 5-under today, so it was pretty close.’’

Looking back, that first-round 65, where Tseng shot 29 on the back side, went a long way towards deciding the $225,000 first prize, which just happened to push her over the $8 million mark in career earnings. In the process she became the quickest to pass that milestone, edging past Lorena Ochoa, who got to $8 million in four years and four months compared to Tseng’s four years 1 month. (BTW, Tseng also was the first player to $2 million, $3 million, $4 million, $5 million, $6 million and $7 million in earnings. See a pattern?)

Or as Choi spun it regarding Tseng’s total domination of the women’s tour: “She’s amazing. I don’t know who can catch her. She is far ahead of the rest of us.’’

It’s true, Tseng is simply sensational when you consider she has 34 wins worldwide, and is only five victories shy of the LPGA Hall of Fame due to the fact that five of her 14 wins on the LPGA are majors. If it didn’t seem possible that she has the potential to surpass Annika Sorenstam and all the Swede’s scoring/tournament records someday, it does now that she has her fifth win in her last 11 outings.

Yes, Yani’s on fire! And, hey, those 14 Ws by Tseng also tie Cristie Kerr on the all-time list, and that’s saying something considering Kerr has been solid for 16 years compared to a little over four for Tseng.

There are other things to admire about Tseng, like the fact she speaks three languages, including Japanese, and that she’s a major spokesperson for UNICEF. And did you know her secret wish is to appear on “Minute to Win It’’? Hey, that’s a TV show that most people would dread being on considering the format.

It’s true, we’re watching someone special even if the golf world has yet to embrace Tseng, and even if the locals didn’t get to see her follow Hall of Famer Karrie Webb as the second champion of the Founders Cup, a tournament that still has a shaky future despite its back-to-back winners being the best of the best.

“I thought we could not finish today, and it was just very lucky (to finish),’’ Tseng said of the dark, cold ending. “I’m really happy that we finished, and I just thank all of the people for staying here with us all day.’’

If the truth be told, there weren’t many who hung around to the very end. Then again, if the galleries never got smaller, at least in Tseng’s eyes, well, there’s another clue as to why Yani gets it.

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