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The Loop

Tseng seeking encore to dominant year

November 16, 2011

ORLANDO - Dominance hasn't been rare on the LPGA Tour over the last decade or so. There was Annika Sorenstam and then there was Lorena Ochoa, and now, with those two golfers retired from competition, there is Yani Tseng.

Coming out of the gates of her career faster than even that pair of stars, with 12 victories by age 22, including a quickest-ever five major championships, Tseng has nothing to prove at this week's year-ending CME Group Titleholders.

Whatever happens over 72 holes at Grand Cypress Resort, where 59 players will tee off Thursday in a tournament that has dusted off the Titleholders name - a precious one in women's golf history - will be an encore to a fantastic season for Tseng, the native of Taiwan who now lives in Sorenstam's former home in Orlando.

In 2011 Tseng has seven LPGA victories and 11 overall, wins at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and Ricoh Women's British Open among them. It is reminiscent of seasons that Sorenstam and Ochoa and greats before them enjoyed, the kind of year that dwarfs the competition.

"It's been a very nice year," said Suzann Pettersen, No. 2 to Tseng on the Rolex Rankings, "but when Yani has won seven events, it makes you not feel so great with your two. You can't do anything but applaud what she's done. She's played phenomenal. She kept it [up] all year, which has probably been the most impressive thing."

Even more than her two major titles in 2011, Tseng, who will pick up her second straight Rolex Player of the Year award at a Thursday reception, was buoyed by her appearance - and victory - at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship last month in her native country. Spectators turned out in droves, one of them Tseng's 92-year-old grandmother who had never seen her granddaughter play golf in person.

"The happy point I would say was in Taiwan," Tseng said. "That was unbelievable. I was really happy that I won that tournament."

Tseng was relaxed and talkative in a Wednesday press conference, having worked hard to learn English, including taking classes prior to the 2011 season. "I have been working on my English, same as my golf," said Tseng, who thanked a questioner who noted her progress. "I try to speak more. I remember four years ago even sitting here probably saying nothing, but now I can talk more, tell my story, my goals, how I can improve this year. I just feel like I can share more stories, more things to the media, to the fans. It's not just good for me, it's good for everybody."

It certainly is better for Tseng when dealing with her English-speaking coach and caddie. "Now we can fight," Tseng said lightheartedly. "Before when we fought, I always lost, but now with my English, I can fight with them. I can tell what's my side. I can tell them what I'm thinking."

Tseng might go back this off-season for more English tutoring, and while she is trying to enjoy life off the course - "I'm 22, so I start tasting the good wine," Tseng said - she realized how all her preparation set the stage for a great 2011. "All the hard work is paying off, and all the great players on the tour, they give me lots of motivation to become a better player," Tseng said. "We all push each other to get better, get better skills and better mentally because you have to play so good to win a tournament."

In gauging how Tseng's talent stacks up against what Sorenstam and Ochoa were able to achieve, Pettersen believes Tseng is competing against a deeper talent pool than Sorenstam but that the Swede is "by far the best one there's been."

"They're different - their games are different," Pettersen said. "Yani is probably the biggest hitter of the three. Annika was quite long at the time, too, but I look at Yani as a more aggressive player. Annika was a strategic perfectionist. She did everything by the the book. She made a plan and stuck to the plan. Lorena had a lot more feel, and she was relaxed. It never felt like she was tense. It's hard to compare. At the end of the day, you count victories, you count points, look at the numbers themselves and draw conclusions."

One number Tseng would like to get to next season is 10 LPGA wins. Sorenstam twice had double-digit LPGA campaigns, winning 11 times in 2002 and 10 times in 2005. Tseng said she might ask Sorenstam for some advice about having a monster season better than her current one, but she isn't lacking for confidence.

"The last three tournaments, I've been expecting to win like every tournament," Tseng said. "It's great pressure for me, because golf is not easy, and there's so many great players on tour. The only thing you can do is focus on yourself. If you think too much, it's just going to mess with you all the tournament. Just try to enjoy the pressure. That pressure gives me motivation. I want to play better to show all the fans what I can do."

The pressure plus motivation equation worked perfectly in her return to her homeland, where she was a singular focus as much as Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods ever was. "Before the tournament I was feeling so much pressure," Tseng said, "but on the first day I was teeing off on the first tee and I feel like all the pressure is gone because I just want to enjoy this big crowd all over the fairways."

-- Bill Fields