Tseng still No. 1, still searching

March 13, 2013

Yani Tseng is trying to recapture a youthful enthusiasm, searching for the balance of fun and precision that carried her to the top spot in women's golf.

The No. 1-ranked Tseng enters her title defense in the LPGA Founders Cup on a 22-event, 50-week winless streak. Conversely, third-ranked Stacy Lewis is coming off a victory — her fifth in her past 22 tournaments — two weeks ago in Singapore.

''I just want to have fun and enjoy as much as I can because I know last year I paid too much attention to world No. 1,'' Tseng said. ''I feel like I lost some childlike. I just want to play as a child, and I feel like I lost that enjoyment for playing golf last year. . . .

''You want to have fun out there. You don't want to think about results too much. But you want to try to find the fine line, because it's very easy to be too relaxed, it's very easy to have too much pressure. You just want to find the balance.''

Lewis is closing in on the top spot in the world.

''I never expected to be No. 1 in the world, so if I get there one day, I'm going to enjoy the heck out of it because there's no way that kid growing up in a back brace would ever think about being the best golfer in the world,'' said Lewis, forced to wear a back brace for six years as a teen because of scoliosis.

Lewis' agent recently asked if there was anything he could do for her.

''I said, `More time in a day,' '' Lewis said. ''It's definitely been busy; it's been tough. We've had to, unfortunately, say no to a lot of things, but for me, golf needs to be No. 1 and I need that time to get my practice in. Then, if I have time for other stuff, great.''

Last year at Desert Ridge's Wildfire Golf Club, Tseng won the second of her three 2012 titles, holding off Na Yeon Choi — No. 2 in the world — and Ai Miyazato by a stroke in cold, rain, wind and hail. The Taiwanese star won the Kia Classic the following week at La Costa for 15th LPGA Tour title but then struggled the rest of the season.

''People started asking, `What's wrong with Yani?''' said Tseng, No. 1 in the world for 109 weeks. ''I think that is time I feel really pressure. . . .

''This year, world No. 1 still means a lot for me, but I just don't want to really focus on that. If I lose, it's OK, I just try to get it back. I'm not worried about too much. It's very hard to always be on top, and I think now the LPGA is getting tougher and tougher.''

Tseng and Lewis will open play Thursday in a group with Paula Creamer.

The tournament is the fourth of the season, and first in the United States. Jiyai Shin won the season-opening Australian Open, Inbee Park took the LPGA Thailand and Lewis completed the Asian swing with her victory in the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

''It's nice to just be back in the States in general,'' said Lewis, the Texan who played at the University of Arkansas. ''It's nice to not have to get on a 12-hour flight to go to your next golf tournament.''

She tied for 10th last year at Wildfire.

''The greens are holding a little bit better,'' Lewis said. ''That kind of frustrated me last year, so I was kind of looking forward to getting back here and getting some redemption.''

The tournament will be played in far better conditions than the players faced last year in the chilly final round, with highs forecast in the 90s Thursday, Friday and Saturday and high 80s on Sunday.

Natalie Gulbis withdrew Wednesday because of malaria contracted during the tour's Asian swing. The LPGA Tour and the International Management Group said Gulbis is being treated at home in Las Vegas and is expected to be at full strength in three weeks.

Two weeks ago in Singapore, Gulbis pulled out before the second round because the illness that was later confirmed to be malaria.