Yani Tseng was far from her best in the first round of the Kia Classic. The top-ranked Taiwanese star still found a way to top the leaderboard.
Tseng, coming off her 14th LPGA Tour victory Sunday in Phoenix in the LPGA Founders Cup, shot a 5-under 67 on Thursday for a share of the lead with Ji Young Oh and Caroline Hedwall.
”She hits a lot of great shots,” said playing partner Suzann Pettersen, a stroke back at 68. ”Her bad shots are still very acceptable. She recovers well from whenever she is in trouble. She has a pretty sharp short game. That’s probably what saves her the most. She can be more aggressive and even afford to miss a green on the short side, even kind of saving her par.”
The 23-year-old Tseng has two victories in four events this year. She led the tour last season with seven victories – including major victories in the LPGA Championship and Women’s British Open – and finished the year with 12 worldwide titles.
”I’m enjoying it,” Tseng said. ”I’m always excited for every week, every week that’s coming up and trying to win every tournament. I’m learning from mistakes and every tournament I’m learning something, so that’s pretty good for me. Because it’s very exciting to see this year what can I improve on my game. … And just to see how far I can go.”
Tseng finished with a birdie on the par-4 ninth after dropping a stroke on the par-3 eighth when she drew a difficult lie in a greenside bunker.
”It plugged in the bunker,” Tseng said. ”I didn’t have a good lie there. I chipped out pretty good to 6 feet and just missed (the putt) a little bit to the right.”
On the ninth, her approach shot hit the left side of the fringe and kicked onto the green, coming to rest 3 feet from the hole.
”I think I hit a good shot,” Tseng said. ”Sometimes you hit a good shot, you get good luck and a good bounce.”
Tseng hit eight of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation.
”I didn’t hit a lot of fairways,” Tseng said. ”This golf course is very narrow and the rough is really long. If you don’t hit the fairways, it’s kind of very hard to get close to the pin.”
Oh, a two-time LPGA Tour winner who fought a hip injury the last two seasons, also had six birdies and a bogey – also on No. 8 – on La Costa’s Legends Course. She hit all but one fairway.
”Everything is good for me,” I’m really calm,” Oh said. ”My shot is really good, so I have a good score.”
Hedwall, from Sweden had seven birdies and two bogeys.
”I’ve been hitting it very solid lately,” Hedwall said. ”I felt like if I could have a good day, I could shoot low. I made a lot of birdies and made it close, so that helped a lot.”
Jiyai Shin, Brittany Lincicome and hometown star Jennifer Johnson matched Pettersen at 68.
”I really wanted to make that last putt because she (Tseng) was going to make hers to go to 5 under,” Pettersen said. ”It’s a nice edge, it kind of gets you focused just a fraction bit more.”
The 20-year-old Johnson is a La Costa member.
”You definitely have some expectations for yourself,” Johnson said. ”But the greens are a little bumpy, and I think that’s where I have the advantage, just knowing sometimes they don’t break.”
Sandra Gal, the winner last year at Industry Hills, shot a 72.