June 7, 2008

Tour Rookie Triumphs In Major

19-year-old rookie Yani Tseng birdied the fourth playoff hole to beat Maria Hjorth and capture her first LPGA victory and the year's second major

Tseng became the first LPGA rookie in 10 years to win a major.

Tseng became the first LPGA rookie in 10 years to win a major.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. (AP) -- Yani Tseng of Taiwan became the first rookie in 10 years to win a major, beating Maria Hjorth on the fourth hole of a playoff with a 5-foot birdie on the 18th hole to win the LPGA Championship.

Tseng, a 19-year-old with a decorated amateur career, closed with a 4-under 68 and became the second-youngest woman to win a major. Not since Se Ri Pak in the 1998 McDonald's LPGA Championship had a player won a major as a rookie.

"I feel so lucky," Tseng said.

Hjorth appeared to have fate on her side when her fairway metal bounced off the rocks in a creek, over a ledge and across the green, turning a bogey into a birdie on the 15th hole. She closed with a 71, and missed a 12-foot birdie before Tseng holed the winning putt.

Lorena Ochoa went 14 holes without a birdie, ending her hopes of a third straight major. She birdied two of the last three holes for a 71 and finished one shot out of the playoff, along with Annika Sorenstam.

Sorenstam had a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole to get into the playoff, but she left it short and shot 71.

"It wasn't my time," Ochoa said, showing more emotion than she had all week. "I am not ashamed. I'm proud of my finish. Now I move on and try to win the next few tournaments."

Equally disappointed was Sorenstam, trying to join Mickey Wright as the only four-time winners of the McDonald's LPGA Championship. She gave herself so many chances, and the final putt summed up her week.

"It's a tough time," Sorenstam said. "I was determined today, really this whole week. I felt like I could do it."

Tseng and Hjorth finished at 12-under 276.

Laura Diaz (70) was one birdie away from the lead throughout the back nine until a three-putt bogey on the 17th. She finished fifth.

Tseng missed a 10-foot birdie putt in the regulation for the win. Playing the 18th hole for the third time in an hour, Tseng's shot out of the first cut stopped 5 feet behind the flag.

"I was really nervous playing in the playoff," Tseng said. "I told myself, 'Just like amateur, relax.'"

The sudden-death playoff essentially was match play, and Tseng again came through. When Michelle Wie was 14 at the top of her game, Tseng rallied to beat her in the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, and a year later defeated Morgan Pressel in the North & South Amateur, among her 19 amateur victories around the world.

It was the second time in two years that a teenager won a major. Pressel became the youngest major champion last year, winning the Kraft Nabisco at 18.

The Ochoa-Sorenstam duel on a searing hot day at Bulle Rock never developed. Instead, five players had a share of the lead at some point in the final round, and the back nine was up for grabs to the very end.

Hjorth surged into the lead with her unlikely birdie off the rocks on the par-5 15th, and chipping in from 15 feet for birdie on the next hole to lead by one. But she missed the 17th green, failing to save par with a 4-foot putt to fall into a tie with Hjorth.

Ochoa opened with a 10-foot birdie and didn't make another one until the par-4 16th.

"I gave myself a lot of birdie chances, but I couldn't make any putts to get momentum," Ochoa said. "There's nothing I can do now. I tried my best."

She had eagle chances on consecutive holes, both times to get within one of the lead. But she three-putted for par from 45 feet on the 15th, and her eagle pitch from 20 yards lipped out on the 16th.

"I never lost the hope," she said. "I though something good was going to happen, that miracles exist. But it wasn't my time."

A birdie on the final hole gave her a 71 and a tie for third, her seventh consecutive top 10 in a major.

Equally disappointed was Sorenstam, playing the LPGA Championship for the final time and playing well enough to tie Mickey Wright with her fourth title at this major. But she twice missed birdie putts inside 5 feet on par 5s, with a chance to get into the playoff, she left her 15-foot birdie putt well short.

"I left a lot of shots out there," Sorenstam said. "I wish I could have converted one or two; it would have been enough. But I didn't.

Both were part of the carnage on the 13th in which the top six on the leaderboard were a combined played the toughest hole at Bulle Rock in 7-over par.

Hjorth had the highest score -- a double bogey -- and it helped save the tournament.

She pulled her tee shot and it hit a spectator and bounded into waist-high native grasses, so thick that no one could find the ball. She went back to the tee, this shot was in the right rough, from about the same spot where Tseng scrambled for bogey.

With sheer strength, Hjorth pounded it out of the rough onto the front of the green, then two-putted from about 40 feet.

Sorenstam missed the green to the right from the middle of the fairway, her chip ran over the cup, but her 4-foot par attempt never hit the hole. That ended a streak of 42 consecutive holes at Bulle Rock without a bogey.

Worse yet, she never made another birdie the rest of the way.

Jee Young Lee, who started the final round with a one-shot lead over Hjorth, had a double bogey on the 13th and a triple bogey two holes later and closed with a 78.