Top-ranked Tseng set to defend Kraft Nabisco title from Webb and Wie

By Gregg Beacham
Published on

Yani Tseng got a good laugh when she walked past the pond where she celebrated her Kraft Nabisco Championship victory last year by leaping into the water -- and then remembering she doesn't know how to swim.

Tseng survived that traditional plunge and swam all the way to the world No. 1 ranking after winning the LPGA Tour's first major of the year at Mission Hills in 2010.

"I feel really excited to come back, especially walking on the 18th hole," Tseng said. "I see my name was on the walk of champions. It was so exciting, brings me a lot of good memories, and then I just came over, and that's the water I jumped in. My caddie threw a coin to wish I could win the tournament this week, too."

She'll try to defend her title against a field featuring seven past champions, including two-time champ Karrie Webb and 2009 winner Brittany Lincicome, but there's little doubt the good-natured 22-year-old from Taiwan is considered the player to beat. Tseng has won four tournaments worldwide already this year, including the tour's season opener in Thailand.

Michelle Wie also is back in search of her first major title at a tournament where she made four top-15 finishes before she turned 17. Wie is thoroughly impressed by Tseng, who's less than nine months older than the former teen prodigy from Hawaii.

"I think she's really improved over the last couple of years, and she's a good player," Wie said. "It's pretty amazing that she won the first couple of tournaments in a row, which is pretty good."

With her remarkable start to the season, Tseng has displayed a bit of the domination that's long been expected from Wie. But when Wie eventually makes her breakthrough atop a major, nobody will be surprised if it's on Mission Hills' familiar layout.

"It's as exciting this year as it was when I was 13," Wie said. "It's just an awesome golf course. It has so many famous winners, so many traditions, and it's just one of those tournaments where you want to win. It would mean the world to me if I could do that this week."

Wie already has two top-10 finishes this year, including last week's Kia Classic in her return to the tour after finishing her finals at Stanford. She's also grateful to be in Palm Springs' 85-degree weather after sniffling through the quarter in the cold, rainy Bay Area.

"Finals were miserable," Wie said. "They went horribly. They seem to go more horribly ever year, as well as my grades. I'm glad that was over. Spring break was last week. I'm actually missing the first week of school right now. I should be done by next March if I pass all my classes."

The field also includes Germany's Sandra Gal, who won the Kia Classic, and Cristie Kerr, who already has racked up three top-10 finishes this year, including a third-place tie last week.

There's also the beginnings of a remarkable comeback by Webb, who already has won this year in Singapore and Phoenix after winning just once in the previous four years. The Australian refers to her two prior victories at Mission Hills as "probably the highlight of my career," and she's hoping the confidence gained from her fast start translates into more success.

"I know how good I can be," Webb said. "It's just a matter of -- like in the two times I've won this year -- getting out of my own way and letting it happen. ... I'd just like to win another tournament here, and this year I've got as good a chance as any. This is probably the best I've felt about things coming into this tournament for quite a few years."