Na Yeon Choi closes in on Yani Tseng’s No. 1 ranking

Scott Halleran

Yani Tseng may be hearing footsteps.

After an up-and-down season that ended with a T26 at the LPGA’s year-ending Titleholders on Sunday, the world No. 1 retained her top spot. But Na Yeon Choi’s two-stroke victory had the new No. 2 striding into view of the world rankings leader.

Choi added the largest purse on tour -- $500,000 -- to her U.S. Women’s Open win and leapfrogged Player of the Year Stacy Lewis for sole possession of second place, fewer than 100 points behind Tseng. Should the 25-year-old Choi pick up next year where she left off in 2012, Tseng may be relinquishing the position that, as early as March -- after three wins in five starts -- appeared as if it might be hers for life.

“It should be my goal for next year, but I don't really think about world ranking,” Choi told reporters after finishing with a 2-under 70 and a 14-under 274 total for the week at TwinEagles Golf Club in Naples, Fla. “If I play well every tournament or improve my game every year, I think I can be closer. But I can't control that, so I don't want to think about world ranking or money list or that kind of thing. I just want to play my game and just go out...there and have fun and play golf and make lower score.”

A lot can change between Sunday and when the women pick up their sticks again sometime next year. Just ask Tseng, who, after dominating the world of golf in 2011, a year in which she won 12 times worldwide and became the youngest player ever to win five majors, bowed to internal and external pressures that led to a months-long slump. Tseng’s funk included three missed cuts and only three top-10 finishes since May.

For Sunday, however, anything was possible for Choi, who stole the limelight from Lewis (T29 last week) and Rookie of the Year So Yeon Ryu, who was runner-up in the LPGA’s season finale. Choi planned to put her winnings to good use, as she was set to spend this week looking for a bigger house in Orlando and applying for membership at Isleworth Golf and Country Club.

Choi’s swing coach Kevin Smeltz believed Isleworth’s practice facilities would help Choi hone her considerable skills.

“I think it's good investment in myself [to] improve my short game,” said Choi, who had a Monday morning appointment at Tiger Woods’ old haunt.

Lewis, who on Friday night accepted her award as the first American PoY since 1994, lost out on two other honors she had hoped to capture as well. Inbee Park, who closed out her season at 6-under 282, secured the money title as well as the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. Lewis finished at even-par 288.

“It means a lot,” said Park, who had two wins during a streak of 10 straight top-10 finishes between June and October. “I led a lot of tournaments this year and I finished a lot in runner‑up....Next year when I get the chance of leading, I won't be as nervous as this year. Experience makes it perfect.”

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