ROGERS, Ark. – Yani Tseng was as amazed as anyone during Michelle Wie’s torrid stretch early in the weekend, when Wie shot a 28 for nine holes to take command at the Northwest Arkansas Championship.
Just over 24 hours later, Tseng was the tournament’s champion – after rallying to beat Wie by a stroke.
“She’s just so good,” Tseng said. “I just really play, one shot at a time, but if I don’t make lots of birdies today, I couldn’t win.”
Tseng made four birdies in a crucial five-hole stretch on the back nine en route to a 6-under 65 on Sunday that gave her a third LPGA victory of the year. Tseng, from Taiwan, held off Wie when both players made birdies on No. 18.
Tseng finished at 13-under 200.
Wie (69) gave up the lead on the back nine – the same half of the course she played in 7-under 28 during a scintillating stretch Saturday that helped her take a three-stroke lead after two rounds. Tseng played with Wie during that round and was alongside her again Sunday, this time taking the victory away.
“Yani played great,” Wie said. “Usually, if you’re 12 under, it’s good enough. I played good today. I had faith in myself, a couple iron shots went a little bit left today.”
The 20-year-old Wie was trying for her second straight win. She won the Canadian Women’s Open late last month.
Juli Inkster, who at 50 was trying to become the oldest player to win on the tour, shot 72 and finished seven shots back. She’d entered the day tied for second with Tseng and Na Yeon Choi.
Mika Miyazato (64) finished third at 10 under at Pinnacle Country Club.
Tseng has five career LPGA victories, including three majors. She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Women’s British Open this year.
She’s now firmly involved in the discussion of who might take over the mantle as women’s golf’s next dominant player after the recent retirements of Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa.
“When I was young, I was watching them play, so I just feel like I really need to win more tournaments, to be really working hard to be chasing them,” Tseng said. “Even though they’re retired, I think they’re still No. 1 in the world.”
Tseng, who actually bought Sorenstam’s home in Florida, jumped to the top of the Rolex Player of the Year race. She also is second on the money list.
Wie and Tseng were grouped with Inkster on Sunday. Wie fell into a tie with Inkster at 9 under when she three-putted No. 6 for a bogey. Wie responded with a birdie on No. 7 and led Tseng by two strokes after both players birdied the 11th.
Tseng kept the pressure on. Although Wie scrambled to make pars on Nos. 13, 14 and 15, Tseng birdied 12, 14 and 15 to take the lead.
Wie then bogeyed No. 16 to fall two strokes back, but hit an outstanding tee shot on the par-3 17th and made a birdie, one of only six on that hole all day.
That set up No. 18, a 515-yard par 5 that Wie had eagled the previous day. Tseng missed the fairway but hit a tremendous second shot from about 200 yards to the fringe, around 20 feet from the hole.
“I hit a great shot,” Tseng said. “I think I got pretty lucky to bounce a little left.”
Wie then missed the green with her second shot, all but ending her chances. Tseng’s winning birdie came on a putt from inside 2 feet.
Tseng has played well in majors, but she struggled in some of the less prestigious tournaments. Since winning the Women’s British Open, she tied for 45th at the Safeway Classic and missed the cut in Canada.
“I missed the cut last tournament and then I win this tournament,” Tseng said. “It means so much difference for me – seems like I was really prepared and ready for this tournament.”
The Arkansas event was only 54 holes but had a loaded field with almost every top player in the world. Inbee Park (65) finished fourth, five strokes behind the winner. Jiyai Shin (66) and Seon Hwa Lee (69), the last two champions at this event, were in a group of players another shot back.
Ai Miyazato (67) tied for ninth, and Cristie Kerr (70) tied for 32nd.