Tseng looks like World No. 1 again

Yani Tseng stands with her caddie during the Safeway Classic.

Yani Tseng stands with her caddie during the Safeway Classic.

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. – There was a “69 watch” going on at the Safeway Classic. That’s not nearly as exciting as that other watch, but given Yani Tseng’s recent struggles, it’s significant.

Tseng broke 70 for the first time since June 2, carding a 5-under 67 in the second round of the Safeway Classic at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club's Ghost Creek Course to trail good friend Mika Miyazato by four strokes. Tseng is cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t have to win this week,” she said. “I don’t want to rush, because I feel like I’m too rushed and it gets worse.”

Instructor Dave Stockton spent time with Tseng earlier in the week at Pumpkin Ridge and encouraged her to watch Rory McIlroy’s interview after winning the recent PGA Championship. Tseng found it online and felt encouraged by the fact that he too had struggled and faced media criticism. Stockton also told Tseng that she could make two bogeys per day here at Ghost Creek, but he expected a lot of birdies to go along with them.

That took the pressure off of Tseng, who was able to go back to her more naturally aggressive game plan knowing that she had room for errors. She made two bogeys on a scorching opening day and then was bogey-free on Saturday, when the temperature dropped some 40 degrees, into the low 60s. Tseng fancied herself a “birdie machine.”

The 8:32 a.m. pairing had something for everyone: A Hall of Famer, a babe and a World No. 1. While Juli Inkster and Natalie Gulbis will flirt with the cut line at this 54-hole event, it was about as fan-friendly of a pairing as one could hope for on the LPGA.

Inkster spent 36 holes with Tseng this week and offered simple advice: The more she dwells on her struggles, the more it’s going to sink in and the longer she’s going to stay in it.

“Walk with your head held high,” Inkster told Tseng. “You’re the No. 1 player in the world. Act like it.”

Tseng had missed three of her last four cuts on the LPGA, dating to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She tied for 50th at the U.S. Women’s Open. Her season can be split into two perplexing sections: From February to early June, Tseng didn’t finish outside the top 12, winning three times. Since then she has been in a summer drought, posting a 74.3 stroke average in the next 14 rounds.

Tseng sounded despondent at the Wegmans LPGA, where she went from obliterating the field in 2011 to finishing T-59 one year later. Things didn’t get much better after that. She began to start “seeing the light” at the Evian Masters in France, even though she missed the cut.

After that, Tseng headed to the Olympics to watch sports such as archery, table tennis and, of course, her beloved tennis star, Roger Federer. Tseng adores Federer the way a 13-year-old crushes on Justin Bieber.

It’s easy to forget that Tseng is a mere 23 years old. She’s a young 23, too. Her mastery of the game at such a young age leads the masses to believe she’s well beyond her years in all areas of life. Not really.

Tseng has never experienced such extreme highs and lows. She might have pressed the panic button quicker than someone a decade older, but she’s also young enough to be buoyant. As far as this scribe can tell, there’s no crazy, deep personal issue going on in the life of Yani Tseng. She just needs to get her head back in the game.

As my mom likes to say, this too shall pass.

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