Yani Tseng capped of the 2011 Grand Slam Season in style. She ran away with the RICOH Women’s British Open at Carnoustie. Her -16 total was four ahead of the field and gave Tseng her second consecutive British Open title.
At 22, Tseng is the youngest golfer to collect a fifth major. Tiger Woods was 24, Jack Nicklaus 26, Se Ri Pak 28, and Annika Sorenstam 32 when they reached that mark.
This was Tseng’s second major of the year. She won the Wegman’s LPGA Championship by ten shots in June at Locust Hill Country Club.
Tseng has saved her best golf for the major championship season. Five of her nine LPGA wins have been majors. Four of them have come since April 2010.
Last April I wondered who would fill the game’s power vacuum following Lorena Ochoa abrupt retirement. Tseng had just won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and looked like a promising star, but had won just three LPGA events.
Several international players vied for the title. Jiyai Shin was the reigning Rookie of the Year and was about to become World # 1. Ai Miyazato had won twice already that season and would swap places with Shin as the game’s best throughout the summer.
America’s Christie Kerr would run away with the Wegman’s LPGA Championship that summer and would also spend a few weeks as number one.
Young Americans began rounding into form as well. Paula Creamer won the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont in July 2010. Michelle Wie grabbed her second victory later that summer at the CN Canadian Women’s Open. Stacy Lewis, the University of Arkansas product, won the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship
None of the young guns has won since. Creamer lacks the distance to become a consistent major championship contender. Wie has all the talent in the world, but has a balky putter that’s held her back since she turned pro. Many hope she’ll realize her full potential after graduating from Stanford next year. Lewis is a regular on leader boards, but so far hasn’t built on her record since that magical week in the California desert.
Tseng, meanwhile, has tremendous firepower and has dominated the competition since Ochoa stepped away last spring. She is one of the game’s longest drivers and can overwhelm many of the courses on tour. She brought Carnoustie Golf Links to its knees this week.
After opening with a disappointing 71 on Thursday, she fired back to back 66s on Friday and Saturday. Her dialed- in iron play gave her several kick-in birdies. At times her ball-striking was Hoganesque, an apt term since Ben Hogan won his final major (and capped off his Triple Crown Season) at Carnoustie in 1953.
Tseng entered Sunday two behind Germany’s Caroline Masson, a youngster playing in only her second major championship. Masson faltered on the front nine and lost her lead early (she faded to a final round 78). Tseng grabbed the lead for good by the 7th hole and cruised to victory.
Her play on the home hole was indicative of her performance this week (and this year for that matter). Her drive split the fairway. She chose a nine iron from 135 yards and hit it to four feet. Those two impressive shots dismantled what many consider the game’s most challenging final hole. From there she tapped in for a birdie three and a four shot victory.
Bobby Jones once said of a young Jack Nicklaus, he plays a game that I’m unfamiliar with. Many on the LPGA marvel at Tseng’s skill set. The ball sounds different coming off her clubface. She can hit shots that others can’t and puts up scores others only dream of.
Brittany Lang, who finished second this week, raved about Tseng’s performance: “She’s just got it all. It’s pretty cool, cool to watch.”
Tseng has already totaled Se Ri Pak’s major championship total. She’s two behind Karrie Webb. And she’s halfway to Annika Sorenstam’s mark, the most in the modern era (post 1970) of women’s golf.
This year Tseng dismantled the competition. Golfweek’s Alistair Tate called her “untouchable,” and if she’s not that, she certainly is the Champion Golfer of the Year.