Mike Southern and the LET have already started spreading the news: Ya Ni Tseng will be the new #1 in the wide world of women's professional golf when the rankings come out tomorrow, thanks to her dominating victory at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters today. As the LET notes, the Taiwanese Tsunami joins some very impressive company: "Others to use the tournament as a springboard to No. 1 are Se Ri Pak of Korea, Webb, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa." Tseng's 68 today brought her to -24 overall, 4 shots ahead of Stacy Lewis and Nikki Campbell, 6 shots ahead of Ryann O'Toole (who won the Battle of the LPGA Rookies, on which more in a sec), and 7 shots up on Lee-Anne Pace, Amanda Blumenherst, Sarah Jane Smith, and Cecelia Cho.
After a slow start over her 1st 8 holes--a birdie on the par-5 3rd, followed by her 1st bogey in 46 holes on the short par-4 7th--Tseng finished off the tournament in style, going birdie-eagle-birdie on the last 3 par 5s of the round to post an astounding -16 total on the par 5s at Royal Pines for the week. If she had any nerves, the only place they showed up was in less accurate driving (although finding 64.9% of the fairways today meant she still hit them almost 77% of the time for the week, an amazing performance for someone averaging over 272 yards off the tee) and less sizzling putting (she took 1.81 putts per green in regulation to bring her average for the week up to 1.74, still awesome but in the normal rather than superhuman range she had been thanks to how hot her putter had been on moving day). But fortunately for her, she kept hitting greens like she was from another planet (over 91% for the week!) and Lewis couldn't match that kind of ball-striking mastery. By hitting 16 of 'em today, Tseng put her lead in a lockbox Al Gore would be proud of and even though Lewis outputted her (1.69 GIR on the day and 1.66 for the week), she could only manage 13 today and 13 fewer overall than the winner. Don't get me wrong: Lewis played out of her skull and played her heart out. But the outcome was never in doubt all day.
Same goes for those who made Sunday charges. A 64 from the JLPGA's Campbell, a 65 from the LET's 2010 money-list title-holder Lee-Anne Pace, a 65 from Duke's Blumenherst to challenge UCLA's O'Toole for silver among Americans in the field, a 65 from Australia's (and the LPGA's) Sarah Kemp to tie her with Karrie Webb, Eun-Hee Ji, and Christina Kim for 9th, "only" 8 shots behind Tseng--all of them lent truth to the old adage, "too little too late."
But so long as you weren't measuring yourself against Tseng's brilliance, this was an encouraging week for many. If the LPGA's rookies can play leapfrog with each other on the big tour the way they did Down Under, they're going to make a big and immediate impact this season. UCLAers O'Toole (-18) and Tiffany Joh (-13) put up a -31 cumulative total, edging USCers Belen Mozo (-15) and Jennifer Song (-14). We have an emerging rivalry between Razorback Lewis and Blue Devil Blumenherst, 2 of the most heralded American rookies in previous years. It looks like the swing changes Eun-He Ji has been working on since she won the U.S. Women's Open a couple of seasons ago are finally coming together. Christina Kim seems like she's brought her game up to her usual Solheim Cup-season levels already. Katherine Hull has picked up this season where she left off last one and seems ready to challenge Webb for the Head Aussie in Charge on the LPGA title for real (although maybe it's time for Campbell to spread her wings from the JLPGA and try playing with the big girls all season!). And Lexi Thompson showed some of her potential this week, getting to double digits under par.
2011 is going to be a great year on the LPGA! Here's hoping it's a great year for the LPGA, as well.
[Update 1 (7:47 am): Here's Aussie Golfer, who notes Tseng is the youngest #1 in the history of the Rolex Rankings.]
[Update 2 (8:13 am): Jeff Skinner makes the case for Tseng being the best golfer in the world. Period.]
[Update 3 (7:09 pm): bangkokbobby has the video and scoring details!]