Kia Classic final-round notes and interviews

Kia Classic
La Costa Resort and Spa
Carlsbad, Calif.
Final-round notes and interviews
March 25, 2012

Yani Tseng -14, Rolex Rankings No. 1
Sun Young Yoo -8, Rolex Rankings No. 45
Jiyai Shin -7, Rolex Rankings No. 8

Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng captured her third victory of the 2012 LPGA season and her 15th career win after shooting a final-round 70 to secure a six-shot victory at the Kia Classic. Tseng entered Sunday leading by three shots over Rolex Rankings No. 8 Jiyai Shin but her lead shrunk to just two shots after Shin’s birdie on the second.

Even though Shin inched a little closer to the world’s No. 1, there never seemed to be a question that this would once again be Tseng’s day. A birdie by Tseng on the par-4 fifth extended her lead back to three and from there, she never looked back. The only blip in her round came with a bogey on the 18th hole when her win was already well in hand. In addition to the $255,000 first-place prize check, Tseng also takes home a Kia Optima Limited following the win.

The victory is Tseng’s second-consecutive following last week’s triumph at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup and the third in five attempts this season. She has led or co-led after each of the last eight rounds dating back to the first round in Phoenix last week and has won seven of the last eight times she entered the final round with a lead. Tseng’s round of 70 on Sunday also marked her 10th consecutive under-par round dating back to the Honda LPGA Thailand last month.

Making her mark: With her win at the Kia Classic, Tseng becomes the second youngest LPGA player to reach 15 career victories at the age of 23 years, 2 months, 2 days. The only player to reach the mark faster than Tseng is Nancy Lopez, who was 22 years, 5 months and 18 days when she won her 15th career victory at the 1979 Lady Keystone Open on June 24, 1979.

Closing Time: This marks the 7th time in Yani Tseng’s career that she has won an event after leading or co-leading heading into the final round. She went 0-for-4 to start her career in 2008 and 2009, but since then she’s 7-for-8, her only loss coming at last year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, where Stacy Lewis became a Rolex First-Time Winner in 2011.

It’s also the second straight week that Tseng has captured a victory when holding a 54-hole lead. Tseng was tied for the lead with Ai Miyazato heading into the final round of last week’s RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup before shooting a final-round 68 to capture the victory.

“I feel much more comfortable than the first time, of course,” Tseng said in reference to holding on to a final-round lead. “Today the first hole I just kind of felt like every day is the same. I didn't feel like today was Sunday. I didn't feel like I had a three‑shot lead. I just focused on playing one shot at a time. I think I did a good job to just kind of focus on myself instead of look at what Sun Young is doing or Jiyai is doing. Just really focused on what I can do and try to improve and make birdies. So that's very good. That's how I learned over the past few years”

Is the Hall Call coming soon? Tseng earned her 23rd point towards qualifying for the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame with her victory on Sunday at the Kia Classic. Twenty-seven points and 10 years of service on the LPGA Tour are needed for induction.

Two points are on the line at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and so a victory next week would put Tseng just two points away from meeting the first criterion for Hall of Fame induction. So as the wins keep piling up, has Tseng thought about how close she is getting to qualifying?

“The Hall of Fame is my dream since I was young,” Tseng said. “The first year on the Tour, I mean, that really is my big dream. So I always keep that in my mind, and I try to win every tournament, focus on every tournament to see how can I improve that.”

Impressive streak: Tseng’s victory at the Kia Classic was her third in five LPGA events this season and her sixth victory in her last 12 dating back to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last fall. It’s been quite a streak for Tseng, who continues to distance herself from her competitors in the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. And her fellow LPGA Tour players have noticed a difference in Tseng this year as well.

“You can see in her face she has a lot of confidence,” said Jiyai Shin, who now has three top-10 finishes in 2012. “Even her swing, too, she has a great follow through and good alignment right now, so that makes her strong.”

Tiger-like prowess: Perhaps it’s no coincidence that on the day that Tiger Woods returned to the winner’s circle for the first time in 30 months at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Yani Tseng continued to add to her impressive resume at the age of 23.

As Tseng’s accomplishments continue to rack up, she is being compared – fairly or unfairly – to what Woods achieved early on in his career. Tseng already has broken Woods’ record of being the youngest golfer—male or female-- to win five career majors. And by earning her 15th career victory at 23 years, 2 months and 2 days, Tseng accomplished the feat at a younger age than Woods. He was 23 years, 10 months, 7 days when he earned career victory No. 15 at the 1999 WGC-American Express Championship.

“I feel it's kind of my honor to be compared with him,” Tseng said. “It's a big honor for me, and I'm happy that the media can put me as part of this. That means I need to pay attention to this. I just kind of focus on what I can do, and I don't think about all the records and all the numbers. But it seems if he's going to win today, he's probably going to be on the cover. I'm very happy for him, and he's coming back, and I'm looking forward to see him play well again.”

The low round of the day belonged to Shanshan Feng, who shot a 5-under 67. The round jumped Feng from a T12 into a tie for third at 7-under-par with Jiyai Shin. It’s been a solid start to the year for the 22-year-old, who has now finished in the top-5 in each of her three starts this year on the LPGA. Feng also became the first winner from Mainland China on the Ladies European Tour a few weeks ago at the World Ladies Championship on Hainan Island in southern China.

Golden ticket winners: Sun Young Yoo, Jodi Ewart and Se Ri Pak punched their "Ticket to CME Group Titleholders" at the Kia Classic, each earning a spot in the season-ending CME Group Titleholders event, which will be held Nov. 15-18, 2012 at The TwinEagles in Naples, Fla. The second annual CME Group Titleholders is a season finale with a field made up of three qualifiers from every LPGA Tour tournament.

Welcome to the Kraft! The nine players who earned spots into the Kraft Nabisco Championship Field next week are as follows: Jodi Ewart, Karin Sjodin, Lizette Salas, Lori Kane, Sarah Kemp, Na On Min, Mo Martin, Cydney Clanton and Jee Young Lee.

The spots were given to the top nine players on the 2012 LPGA Official Money List who were not otherwise qualified for the event. One qualification to earning a spot was that the players had to be within the Top 80 positions on the 2012 LPGA Official Money List at the beginning of the Kia Classic.

Tweet of the Day: “Yani Tseng wins again...Yani Tseng wins again...Yani Tseng wins again...(No, it's not a broken record, it's just the facts.)” -- @GolfDigestMag

YANI TSENG, Rolex Rankings No. 1

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the winner of the 2012 Kia Classic, Yani Tseng. Congratulations, what a remarkable day. It's been quite a run for you over the past year and today was no different. You captured your 15th career victory, becoming the second youngest LPGA player to reach that mark. Only Nancy Lopez reached that mark at a younger age.
It's your third win in five events this year, and your sixth win in 12 dating back to the Wal‑Mart Northwest Arkansas Championship last year. As I keep reading these accomplishments, they just keep going on and on. But I guess just take me through your day and what this victory overall means to you?
YANI TSENG: That sounds pretty good. I was really happy making all the records. I mean, today I've been really patient. As patient as I could. I didn't hit many good shots and I didn't have many birdie chances, but I hit in a chip‑in at the right time. I made some putts at the right time on the back nine, and that gave me a lot of confidence and put me in a good position today.
Because Jiyai was playing very well on the front nine, and she missed a couple short putts on the back. But it was a very good match today.
Until the last few holes, I had a six‑shot lead, and I knew I was going to win this tournament, so I kind of got too relaxed a little bit. Still trying to make birdie, but it was hard to stay focused.
I'm just really happy for what I've done for the day and just being patient and playing smart today. I'm having so much fun today.

THE MODERATOR: This win marks the seventh time in your career that you've captured a victory after holding a lead heading into the final round. Has it become any different for you at all coming into the final round with a lead like you did today?
YANI TSENG: I feel much more comfortable than the first time, of course. Learning from my mistakes and learning from all the tournaments and the experiences, this has given me a lot of thought for going into Sunday today.
Today the first hole I just kind of felt like every day is the same. I didn't feel like today was Sunday. I didn't feel like I had a three‑shot lead. I just focused on playing one shot at a time. I think I did a good job to just kind of focus on myself instead of look at what Sun Young is doing or Jiyai is doing. Just really focused on what I can do and try to improve and make birdies. So that's very good. That's how I learned over the past few years.

Q. We've been building up all season now to the first major of the year, which will take place next week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. You've now won two consecutive events leading up to Kraft. How excited are you to get back there where you'll have a chance at your sixth career major victory, having already become the youngest winner to win five career majors? How do you feel when you head into that? Do those things that you've been able to accomplish in the majors at such a young age cross your mind at all?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, it's my honor. I just really enjoy playing on the Tour. I enjoy learning all the things from other players. Next week is going to be our first major in the year, and I mean, I feel great. I'm very confident and very comfortable too.
I was very, very close last year. But when I look back, I was very happy that I didn't win because that's why I'm learning. If you keep winning, you don't know what you're going to learn.
Last year was a huge experience for me, and I'm just heading into next week and I'm look forward to it. I know what I'm going to do and still play one shot at a time, be patient, and I love that golf course. The golf course suits me pretty well and suits my game. I can't wait to start on Thursday.

THE MODERATOR: With your victory today, you earned your 23rd point towards qualifying toward the Hall of Fame. There are two points on the line next week which would put you two points away from the 27 points that are needed to qualify. Is that something at all that crosses your mind as you continue to win, that the Hall of Fame is getting closer?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, of course. But I don't know how many points I have. Just sometimes I read a report or in the media, and I know, oh, I'm this close. I can be very young to be in the Hall of Fame. I feel like I'm old.
But the Hall of Fame is my dream since I was young. The first year on the Tour, I mean, that really is my big dream. So I always keep that in my mind, and I try to win every tournament, focus on every tournament to see how can I improve that.

Q. It looks like Tiger is going to win today, and it's probably not fair to compare. But do you ever look at what Tiger did at a certain age and see what you've done at a certain age and how you've won almost as fast as he did? Is that something you look at at all?
YANI TSENG: I feel it's kind of my honor to be compared with him. It's a big honor for me, and I'm happy that the media can put me as part of this. That means I need to pay attention to this. I just kind of focus on what I can do, and I don't think about all the records and all the numbers.
But it seems if he's going to win today, he's probably going to be on the cover. I'm very happy for him, and he's coming back, and I'm looking forward to see him play well again.

Q. What was your off‑season preparation like? Do you have to do anything in particular for your elbow? They were talking on TV a little bit about sometimes you have trouble with your elbow. What do you do to try to help it?
YANI TSENG: My physio is in Orlando with me this off‑season, and that helps a lot for me. Because every day I do ice, I do ultrasound, and I do some soft tissue to try to keep my elbow in good shape. That really helps.
My trainer was there with me for a whole month, so that kind of built my muscles a little bit, and I feel like I'm getting fit. My cardio improved a lot, so I was very happy about that.
My coach was there and, actually, my whole team was there with me. So they've done a very, very good job, and that way I can focus on the golf course and I don't have to worry about too much. I'm really appreciative of that.

Q. Have you ever met Tiger? You're in Florida and kind of near him sometimes.
YANI TSENG: No, I've never met him. I really want to. I heard like Suzann was practicing with him, and some of the players practice together sometimes. I said, Can you bring me next time? So I wish I could meet him, and maybe in the future.

Q. What does it mean to you to win in San Diego? This has been a special place for you in your career and in your life, really. I think you're eight miles from Ernie's house. What does it mean to win here?
YANI TSENG: It's very special. Like I said, the first time I came here is when I was 12. I came to San Diego. So there must be something here. I didn't play well the last two years at La Costa, but heading into this week I felt good. I like the golf course, and I played one shot at a time and that really helps a lot for me.
To win this week is just very special, especially with all the fans from everywhere coming out and supporting me today. That was so much fun to play in front of the crowd and winning this tournament.

Q. You're talking about the fans, and you mentioned it yesterday a very high percentage of Asian fans. Does that feel good to know that you've got all these fans on the other side of the world, but there are so many here this week?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, of course, because sometimes when we play in other states and we don't have that many Asian players. But I know that they're always watching on the TV. So I know someone is supporting you in the back, and that way they always give me a lot of motivation to improve myself to play better. I want to show them and win the tournament. I'm really happy that I didn't disappoint them today.

Q. The lead was down to two strokes when you stepped on the 5th tee. You bomb a drive. Tell me about the shot, the approach shot, because you were quite a bit over and I know there was some wind there. It looked like a really tough lie that you could do a lot of whacky things with. Just talk about the shot and how much do you practice those?
YANI TSENG: I practice a lot, but I practice in Orlando on Bermuda grass, so it's totally different grass. But I practice a lot of shots like that so I know how to do it. But I was very surprised I flew that far on the second shot, because I kind of hit an easy wedge, and the wind was probably just gusting over there.
When I got there, it was about ten yards to the hole, and I didn't have a good lie. But I no knew where I'm going to pitch and hoping to finish good. I just did my routine, and I made a good swing and it ends up pretty good.

Q. That's a big birdie, obviously, with the situation the way it was, because Jiyai missed the short putt.
YANI TSENG: I think that was the turning point for today, because I didn't make any birdies before that. And both of them seemed like they had a good rhythm to play well today, so that was a turning point for me. Hitting at the right time and chipping at the right time and the important time.

Q. Do you play differently when you're coming into the final round in the lead as opposed to coming from behind? Do you prefer either one? Would you rather start the final round ahead or behind or does it matter?
YANI TSENG: Before I always came from behind. But after two years when I'm leading, I was learning how to win when I'm leading. So I don't know. It's better to be in the lead of course.

Q. Do you play differently when you're in front? Are you more cautious or do you try to play the same?
YANI TSENG: No, I just play the same. But when you have a six‑shot lead, I play a little different. But if you have a one‑shot, two‑shot or three‑shot, I always play the same. I'm aggressive in the winds like that. I just kind of focus on what I can do. I pretty much play about the same.

Q. Do you think players look at you any differently this year than they did last year? Do you think you're intimidating out there?
YANI TSENG: I don't know. I don't know what they think, but I feel I'm the same. I don't feel like I've changed. But on the golf course I still have so much fun to play with all the players and play with other top players.
So I really don't know if they look at me differently. But for me I look at everybody all the same.

SUN YOUNG YOO, Rolex Rankings No. 45

Q. Congratulations, a great round by you today. Can you take me through your day out there, and what it was like watching Yani out there playing today?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Actually, I think I played pretty good. I just didn't make the short ones out there. It was a little too bumpy. She played great. There is nothing I can say. Yeah, it was fun to watch and playing with Yani was fun.

Q. How impressive has she been? This is her third win in five tournaments so far this year. It's been pretty impressive to see the streak she's been on.
SUN YOUNG YOO: Yeah, not only this year, she did last year. She did pretty good last year and a couple years ago. It didn't surprise me.

Q. How were the conditions out there today? I know we moved tee times up because of the threat of inclement weather and there was some wind. How tough was it out there?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Yeah, but I think we got pretty lucky with the weather. We didn't get wet.
But the wind picked up a little bit at maybe number 15. But it wasn't too bad.

Q. Overall your performance this week, are you pretty pleased with how you were able to go out there and play?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Yeah, I think I've got to work on my putting a little bit and go hit some balls and go have fun next weekend.

JIYAI SHIN, Rolex Rankings No. 8

Q. I know not quite the performance that you were hoping for today, but overall can you take me through your day and how it was out there?
JIYAI SHIN: Well, I did my best the whole time. But I know I missed a few putts, and then I hit it okay. But the wind was stronger than yesterday, so it was pretty tough to play with the long clubs.
Well, I'm just happy to play with Yani, and it was great watching her play good.

Q. I was going to say watching what she was able to do last year and now this year, three wins in five starts for her, how impressed have you been by her play and how she's consistently put together these performances?
JIYAI SHIN: Actually, it's very impressive because she won last week ‑‑ actually, two weeks to win is pretty tough because the mental is hard to control because she already has a lot of wins.
But when I play with her and I see her, she's great at focusing on her game.

Q. I was going to say even today it looked like her demeanor was pretty calm. She was comfortable out there. Does she have a different mentality almost when she goes out there with the lead like she did today?
JIYAI SHIN: You can see in her face she has a lot of confidence. Even her swing, too, she has a great follow through and good alignment right now, so that makes her strong.

Q. It's been a good start to the year for you. You're off to playing well in the first few events. Overall, how do you feel about the state of your game heading into Kraft next week?
JIYAI SHIN: I'm just saving for winning next week (laughing). Actually, I feel really good. Well, I didn't play good today, but I feel like winning is coming soon.

Topics: Kia Classic, Tseng, Yani, Yoo, Sun Young, Shin, Jiyai, Notes and Interviews [+]

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