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Tenacious to the end, rookie wins LPGA title

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — In her rookie year on the LPGA Tour, playing in only her third major championship, 19-year-old Yani Tseng said she felt lucky to become the youngest winner of the LPGA Championship on Sunday.

But luck had nothing to do with the day she had at Bulle Rock.

First, she went 18 holes with Lorena Ochoa and closed with 4-under 68 in searing heat, denying the sport's No. 1 player a chance to win a third straight major. Then came a sudden-death playoff with Maria Hjorth that lasted four holes.

Tseng finished it off by choking down on a 6-iron out of the first cut of rough and hitting a perfect shot. The ball stopped 5 feet behind the hole for a birdie that made her the first rookie to win an LPGA major in 10 years.

"I can't believe I just won a major," said Tseng, a native of Taiwan. "Everything is coming so fast."

It felt like slow motion for Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam, both desperate for history, too.

Ochoa, who two days before had appeared to be sailing toward a third straight major, went 14 holes without a birdie. The drought ended on the 16th when a 20-yard pitch for eagle banged off the pin, and a birdie on the final hole only made it look close. She closed with 71 and wound up one shot behind.

"I never lost the hope," Ochoa said. "I thought something good was going to happen, that miracles exist. But it wasn't my time."

Sorenstam, trying to join Mickey Wright as the only four-time winner of the LPGA Championship in her final try, closed with 71 and could count more than a dozen putts on the weekend that she could have made. She twice missed inside 5 feet on par 5s in the final round, and she had a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th to get into the playoff.

It was weak and well short.

"It's a tough time," said Sorenstam, who will retire after this season. "I left a lot of shots out there. … I was determined today, really this whole week. I felt like I could do it."

Hjorth appeared to have fate on her side when a fairway metal headed for the hazard instead ricocheted off the rocks in a creek and bounded across the green, turning bogey into birdie. Then she chipped in on the next hole for birdie and the lead.

She closed with 71 to finish at 12-under 276 with Tseng. She had 18- and 12-foot birdie putts to win in the playoff, but both narrowly missed.

"I don't think it's really hit me, but I'm sure I'm going to be very, very tired pretty soon," Hjorth said. "But I'm very happy with the day. I played solid golf all day and (am) just very proud of myself for hanging in there."

Despite her age and inexperience, Tseng felt right at home in the playoff, which is about match play. She won 19 times as an amateur, first gaining recognition in 2004 when she rallied to beat Michelle Wie, at a time Wie was on top of her game, at the U.S. Women's Public Links Amateur. A year later, Tseng beat Morgan Pressel in the North & South Amateur.

With power and poise, and a 6-iron she won't soon forget, Tseng became the second-youngest winner of an LPGA major. Pressel was 18 when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year.

And Tseng became the first rookie to win a major since Se Ri Pak, who won the LPGA Championship 10 years ago at age 20.

Playing the 18th hole for the third time in an hour, Tseng took her hand off the driver when it sailed to the right, the ball taking a good hop out of the deep grass and into the first cut. Then came the 6-iron.

"I wasn't that nervous when I teed off," she said. "I just tell myself, 'Make this putt and win a major.' "

Tenacious to the end, rookie wins LPGA title 06/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 10:54am]
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