Stacy Lewis wrapped her arm around Yani Tseng after a bogey at the 18th and told her “it was nice to see the Yani of old.” And that was only after a 2-under-par 70 Thursday. Lewis’ comment proved particularly prescient, though, Friday when Tseng fired an 8-under-par 64 to storm into a one-shot lead heading into the weekend at 10-under-par.
“I told you!” Lewis joked as she exited the tent.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Lewis said. “She was close to doing that yesterday, so it was good. It was fun, on the front nine, we both had it going, kind of making birdies back and forth. It was pretty cool.”
It almost made spectators wonder if they’d been teleported back to 2011 when Tseng was seemingly at the top of the leaderboard every weekend while Lewis – and everyone else in the field – chased. It especially did when Tseng hit a towering 190-yard six-iron to four feet at the par-5 8th – her 17th hole of the day – and calmly made the putt for eagle. Although a 96 minute delay kept her from finishing the ninth hole, Tseng calmly returned and made birdie at the last to take a one-shot lead over Austin Ernst into the weekend.
As she exited the scorer’s tent, her and Lewis, who is four shots back of her, shared a laugh, and Tseng smiled and opened up about just what Lewis’ comment Thursday meant to her in Friday’s round.
“It’s amazing how she said that to me, especially we’re good friends but we’re competitors at the same time, too,” Tseng said. “It just so – it feels, I don’t know how to describe it. I’m just so happy that she told me that. And today I’m just, it’s a new day so I wasn’t thinking as much but it still for sure gave me some good confidence out there. Just want to keep playing as happy Yani and just enjoy it.”
Win or lose over the weekend, Tseng’s made positive strides in 2015. She hired a new coach, new trainer, and new mental coach. And this is the first time Tseng’s held the lead heading into a weekend since 2013. But all have shown her signs of the old Yani – the one who Lewis said “changed the way women play the game” but hasn’t held a lead heading into the weekend since 2013.
“I've been working on my game forever like every day. It's just exciting. I really want to win a tournament for sure,” Tseng said. “We only have probably seven, eight tournaments left, but it's never too late. Just very happy my game's really coming back. I'm really happy to playing golf and just I want to win. But it doesn't matter, it will come. O it doesn't matter if it's this week or next week or next year, just try to be patient as much as I can and stay positive.”
Lewis more than anyone remembers what it was like to try to upset Tseng in her heyday. Tseng hit it further than any woman on the planet, rarely missed the fairway, attacked every pin and holed the putt when she got to it. Lewis said she saw glimmers on Thursday and was having full 2011 déjà vu as a front row witness to Friday’s 64.
“It's kind of the mentality and just the way that she plays,” Lewis said. “You can see she's confident, she's firing at pins that are tucked and hidden in there close. She hits it so far and hits the irons so high that they have a lot of spin on it so she's able to kind of attack pins that nobody else is. But it's fun to see, it's fun to see her playing the way she should be.”
That Yani ranks ahead of “everybody else I’ve ever played with” Lewis says, and she doesn’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Tseng could again become the No. 1 player in the world one day. But her driver is key, and Tseng knows it too. When she’s driving it well, she’s tough to beat even with a host of challengers like Ernst and Lexi Thompson both within two shots.
“That is [the key]. If I can drive the ball well, I can stay aggressive,” Tseng said. “If I can put my ball in position, I'm going to really have fun on the course. Especially a course like this, it's good for a long hitter. If I can keep on the fairway, I'm going to play well. But you have to putt well, too. I can really see my shot and hit those good drives on the golf course.”