LPGA: Tseng's odd misstep
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- It was a spontaneous act, but a combustible one, too, which might explain how Yani Tseng's bid for a fourth career major went up in flames on Sunday.
Otherwise, this one doesn't compute. It ought to have been easy for Tseng, the pieces in place: The best player in the world, the defending champion, a two-stroke lead, an opponent without victory.
Then came the kiss of death, or its equivalent. Tseng did not in fact kiss the Dinah Shore Trophy prematurely on Sunday, but she did hoist it above her head, the proverbial victor's pose, before striking a single shot.
Five hours later, Stacy Lewis was doing the same for posterity, the winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. And when she applied the final flourish to a three-stroke victory on the 18th hole on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, it was apparent that Lewis was less a surprise winner than Tseng was a surprise loser.
For her part, Lewis has an innate ability to grind through adversity, which in concert with talent that nearly won her the U.S. Women's Open in her professional debut in 2008 suggests that this won't be her last hurrah.
It was Tseng's performance that was puzzling. Only 22, Tseng already had won three major championships, including two of the previous four, and has won four times already in 2011. A flawless round on Saturday -- six birdies, no bogeys -- allowed her to turn Lewis' three-stroke advantage into a two-stroke deficit.
Then she took a wrong turn en route to the winner's circle, a victim of loose shots and at times ramped up pressure from Lewis.
"Golf is golf, so this is normal," she said. "I just didn't play well. It was pretty disappointing for me. And I think she just holed a lot of putts out there and just gave me some pressure, too. It's not easy."
The knockout punch was delivered at the 17th green, when Lewis holed an 18-foot, curling par-saving putt from above the hole, while Tseng three-putted from the fringe.
"I was surprised that she made it," Tseng said. "It was a tough putt. I saw the putt right dead in the hole. It was very awesome."
Resiliency is unlikely to be an issue for Tseng, for whom the next major championship on the schedule was the most important of the year anyway. She already has won three legs of a grand slam and needs only a victory in the U.S. Women's Open to complete it.
Next time, maybe she won't be so inclined to test the fates by lifting the trophy ahead of time. She couldn't help herself Sunday. When she emerged from the tunnel beneath the grandstand at the first tee, the Dinah Shore Trophy was there on display atop a pedestal.
She just took it and lifted it, to the delight of the crowd gathered there. It was a bold statement, but also a violation of the sports psychologists code to stay in the moment. It went downhill from there.
-- John Strege