Tseng challenges Webb’s reign at ANZ

The ANZ RACV Ladies Masters begins on Thursday at Royal Pines with the recent graduate to the number two position in world golf, Yani Tseng, perhaps the favourite to topple the seven time winner, Karrie Webb.

Tseng moved from 5th to 2nd in the Rolex World Ranking as a result of her victory at last week's Handa Australian Women's Open and arrives on the Gold Coast with some serious momentum in terms of current form and her status in women's golf.

Tseng is within striking distance of the current world number one, Jiyai Shin, who finished runner-up to Tseng on Sunday and with Shin taking this week off, the door is open for Tseng to move closer to the coveted position of the female game's leading player and perhaps even take over from the Korean.

The actual points available to Tseng should she win are yet to be calculated by those that control the Rolex Rankings but suffice to say a victory will get her very close if not ahead and that contest in itself might be a significant drawcard this week.

So how does Tseng feel about the possibility of taking that position for the first time in her short career? "I will do my best but you never know until the last putt drops in," said Tseng. "If I was able to do so, it would be like a dream come true. When I was very young my dream was to be world number one but at that time it was very, very far away but now that I am sitting here and I have a chance to be the number one it means a lot. The most important thing however is how to stay there on top for long rather than for just a couple of weeks on top."

"It is fun to watch right now with say the top ten having a chance to be the number one but in another five years we might have just one player like Sorenstam and Ochoa." Irrespective of the ranking however it appears that Tseng is on such a roll in the game that it is just a matter of time for her to take over and potentially dominate.

This week's layout at Royal Pines is a very different test to that on offer at the Commonwealth Golf Club last week but it is one that Tseng has played well previously. In 2005 as an amateur Tseng played the event for the first time and finished in a tied for 25th position.

That year she learned a lot about putting by watching Karrie Webb who was then one of her idols. "I learned from watching her tempo and how she practiced on the putting green. Her tempo is still the same whether she is playing good or bad I am trying to do the same thing as her although she probably does not know (laughter)."

The following year and while still an amateur, Tseng recorded a final round of 64 to finish in a share of third behind Amy Yang and so has the capacity to play this layout well and to go low. She played the fine layout at Commonwealth last week in the most impeccable fashion and although she faces a very different test this week she appears ready.

"I think this more of a putting contest this week but if I putt well I feel I can be very close again."

Karrie Webb takes aim at her 8th victory in this event in the past fourteen years and although her form last week was a little below expectations she has shown a capacity to play this layout better than anyone and over a long period of time.

"I wasn't expecting some of the misses last week and there was no chance to practice during the week, said Tseng. "I gave myself A or B + for my putting and an A + for the way I handled my game but I am not sure I would even give my ball striking a grade. I just plotted my way around the course well.

"I was a little frustrated last week but managed to handle it well and tried not to let it bother me too much and hence I had a pretty decent result. I did not practice yesterday but actually practiced in the rain for most of this morning along with my coach Triggsy (Ian Triggs). I felt I did some good work this morning. We shall see how it goes in the Pro Am tomorrow as far as the things I worked on today."

So just why does Webb enjoy such an amazing record at Royal Pines? "I can't put it into a nutshell. I have always played well here ever since my first time as an amateur and have used that each year to boost my confidence. The course is always in great shape and although I have yet to see it this week I understand it is good again. Sometimes you don't know why you play a course well other than it just suits your eye and you don't question it."

While the respective battles of Tseng to become the world number one and Webb to win this event for the 8th time will provide great viewing for those at Royal Pines and a worldwide television audience there are many others who no doubt feel this is not a "˜two horse race'.

Last week's joint runner-up with Melissa Reid and Jiyai Shin, Eun Hee Ji, is in the field and the 2009 US Women's Open Champion is seemingly on the way back to the level of form that saw her win the greatest major in Women's golf. She had not recorded a top ten on the LPGA Tour since that significant victory but she is a player with the credentials to win this week if the cards fall into place.

By a significant margin, Englishwoman, Melissa Reid, recorded more birdies than any other golfer last week in Melbourne en route to her share of the runner-up position. On that basis alone she deserves respect but she does not enjoy a good record at this event having missed the cut twice in three starts.

Katherine Hull performed well last week when finishing in a share of 7th with Webb although her final round of 75 was surprising. Like Webb however this is a golf course that suits the style of player Hull is. Not only did she win in 2009 but in 2010 she finished runner-up and the form she has displayed in the opening events of the season gives every reason to believe she can improve her great Royal Pines record even further.

Korean So Yeon Ryu has played this event well in previous years and showed glimpses of some good form last week at what must have been for her a less familiar Commonwealth Golf Club. Ryu has been runner-up and 5th in each of her last two starts in this event and is not only a great chance to be the leading Korean but a potential winner. Ryu finished 4th on the Korean Ladies Tour last year and is expected to do well this week.

Another Korean who is likely to play well is the 20 year old Shin-Ae Ahn who in her second season on the KLPGA Tour finished 3rd on their money list.

There will be much interest in the performance of the 16 year old American Alexis Thompson who actually turns 16 on the opening day of the event. Because of her age, Thompson played only seven events on the LPGA Tour in 2010 and yet still managed to earn $330,000 much of that when finishing runner-up at the lucrative Evian Masters and when 10th at the US Women's Open.

"I like this course a lot," she said after playing her first nine holes in Tuesdays' practice round. "I can hit a lot of drivers which I like." Thomson missed the cut last week in Melbourne but there is little doubt she is one of the great future hopes of US Women's golf. "I played and hit it a lot better on the second day in Melbourne after my swing had gotten away on me on Thursday."

Thompson's brother Nicholas, a former PGA Tour player, is back on the Nationwide Tour in 2011, his only victory on that Tour coming interestingly enough coming at the New Zealand PGA Championship.

Other players of interest from the USA are four time LPGA Tour event winner, Angela Stanford, Amanda Blumenhurst and LPGA rookie Jennifer Song.

England's Laura Davies is a former multiple winner of this event and her main adversary on last year's Ladies European Tour, Lee-Anne Pace, is expected to improve significantly on her indifferent effort at last week's Australian Open.

Australians with a chance to do well, other than those mentioned above, include previous runner-up in this event, Tamie Durdin, Nikki Campbell, Lindsey Wright, Kristie Smith and Sarah-Jane Smith.

The weather for the opening days of the event is expected to be showery although unlikely to impact too greatly on play.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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