All eyes on Yani

Yani Tseng during the final round of the Women's British Open.

Honda PTT LPGA Thailand

Course: Siam Country Club, Pattaya Old Course (6,477 yards, par 72), Pattaya, Thailand

Purse: $1.45 million. Winner's share: $217,500.

Last year: Japan's Ai Miyazato won the season-opening event, holing a 30-foot birdie chip on the final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-stroke victory over Suzann Pettersen. Miyazato, six strokes behind Pettersen after the third round, matched the tournament record of 21 under set by Pettersen in October 2007. Miyazato then won the HSBC Champions in Singapore to become the first LPGA Tour player in 44 years to sweep the first two events of a season.

Notes: Michelle Wie is in the field. ... The tour has been off since Maria Hjorth won the LPGA Tour Championship on Dec. 5. ... Lorena Ochoa won the 2009 event. ... The tournament also is sanctioned by the Thailand Ladies Golf Association. ... The HSBC Women's Champions is next week. The tour will open its U.S. schedule March 18-20 with the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Yani Tseng attended her first U.S. Women’s Open as a 13-year-old in Hutchinson, Kan. She walked outside the ropes in the relentless Midwestern sun and told her American host, Ernie Huang, that she wanted to play: “I feel I can beat some of these girls.”

Nine years later, the U.S. Women’s Open is the only major trophy to elude Tseng, who rose to No. 1 in the world Feb. 13 after back-to-back victories in Australia.

“I wasn’t expecting it as quickly as this,” said Tseng, who beat Stacy Lewis and Nikki Campbell by four strokes Feb. 13 at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters.

Tseng, 22, won Player of the Year honors in 2010 off the strength of three victories, including two majors. Still, she ended the season No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings.

Tseng’s rise to No. 1 was quick given that she will begin her fourth year on tour this week when the LPGA starts its season in Thailand. She’ll have plenty of competition from those who jockeyed for the top spot last season: Jiyai Shin (26 weeks), Ai Miyazato (11 weeks) and Cristie Kerr (5 weeks).

Only six players have been No. 1 since the rankings were introduced Feb. 21, 2006.

After Thailand, the tour heads to Singapore to complete its opening Asian swing. The LPGA will head East twice more in 2011 – China in August and Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan in the fall.

Of the 2011 rookie class, Korea’s Hee Kyung Seo is already an LPGA champion. The 2010 Kia Classic winner was known as the KLPGA’s “Supermodel of the Fairways.”

Other newcomers to watch include Jennifer Song, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur/WAPL champ who was born in the U.S. but raised in Korea; Jessica Korda, a spunky 17-year-old whose Czech father, Petr, was a world-class tennis player; Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, the 2010 NCAA champion; and Belen Mozo, a Spanish charmer who will try to follow in the footsteps of best friend and 2010 Rookie of the Year Azahara Munoz.

They all will be chasing Tseng, whose drive to be the world’s best started young. Huang, a Taiwanese transplant who continues to advise Tseng, researched USGA events after that week in Hutchinson, and the following summer signed her up for a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier. She lost to Paula Creamer in the second round, but wrote Huang a thank-you note before going home. Tseng drew pictures of herself holding the U.S. Open and Women’s Amateur trophies with her name inscribed on each. In the card, she wrote: “I am world champion. I can do it.”

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