Victory at Kraft would send Tseng back on course

Yani Tseng lost her No. 1 ranking last month to American Stacy Lewis.

Yani Tseng lost her No. 1 ranking last month to American Stacy Lewis.

— Yani Tseng will have a snorkel in the bag on Sunday in case things go her way. One jump into Poppie’s Pond was not enough for the non-swimmer.

It has been an odd year for Tseng since she last stepped foot on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. The former World No. 1 isn’t as automatic as she once was, and she’s not even the favorite coming into the Kraft Nabisco, where she has finished 1-2-3 her last three starts.

Tseng can pinpoint the moment things started to unravel. When her streak of top-10 finishes ended with a T-12 at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, Tseng read an online report that asked “What’s wrong with Yani?”

“But I just finished 12th,” Tseng said. “That is the time I felt like, no, this is not right. . . . It kind of broke my heart a little bit with the press saying that.”

Tseng seemed lost when she finished T-59 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. From there it got worse: MC/T-50/MC/MC.

Tseng rebounded in the fall with several top-fives in Asia, and took six weeks off during the offseason to hit refresh.

She says those criticisms are no longer a big deal.

“I’ve become more mature,” Tseng said. “My heart is getting stronger, and I’m getting tougher, too.”

She hit an unexpected hurdle two weeks ago when her phone died and she overslept and missed her pro-am tee time at the Kia Classic. By LPGA rules, Tseng was forced to withdraw from the event. She was the defending champion.

An embarrassed Tseng issued a statement and went to her second home in Beaumont, Calif., to unwind with her mother, who was visiting from Taiwan.

When reports came out later in the week indicating that Tseng had missed her tee time because she was out partying late and needed to change her support team, Tseng was incensed. The president of the Golf Association of China told a Taiwanese magazine that Tseng should change managers and avoid night clubs.

Tseng defended her team on her Facebook account. On Wednesday during a press conference, Tseng said she intended to use the article as motivation.

“I want to show them my best,” Tseng said. “ I want to show them I can play golf. Don’t give me (that) crap.”

It was a beautifully unscripted response.

A victory here Sunday would heal a lot of things for Tseng and put her quickly back on top. Tseng would ascend to No. 1 with a victory regardless of anyone else’s finish. A solo second would also bring her back to No. 1 if Stacy Lewis finished fifth or worse.

“A lot of times you’re No. 1 in the world and it’s a lonely place and then you become No. 2 and that doesn’t feel good at all,” said Tseng’s instructor, Gary Gilchrist. “You’d rather be lonely.”

Gilchrist said that when most No. 1s go down, they keep going down. The key, he said, is to stay “really, really positive.”

“Otherwise, the next minute you’re not even in the top 10 anymore.”

Tseng said all the right things on the eve of the first round. She wants to get back to playing “childlike,” smiling big with her head held high.

The 24-year-old managed to make her pro-am tee time, setting off her alarm 10 times and keeping her phone charged. Manager Naya Hsu, who was back in Taiwan recovering from minor surgery during Kia, has joined her in the desert. Tseng won’t miss a beat this week.

It’s not hard to imagine Tseng getting back to the player who once collected majors at such a quick clip the words “youngest to” began to sound like a middle name.

“I’m ready,” Tseng said.

Thankfully, she has an afternoon tee time.

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