Tiger Woods’ Niece To Make Pro Debut At LPGA’s Second Major

GLADSTONE, NJ - MAY 18: Yani Tseng of Taiwan hits her second shot on the second hole in the second round of the Sybase Match Play Championship at Hamilton Farm Golf Club on May 18, 2012 in Gladstone, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Cheyenne Woods prepares for her first event as a pro in next week's second major, while Yani Tseng leads a star-studded field into New Jersey for this week's ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Tiger Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods, will make her first start as a professional golfer at next week’s Wegmans LPGA Championship in Pittsford, N.Y.

Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, the 21-year-old daughter of Tiger’s half-brother, Earl Woods Jr., will try to better her performance in the first event she played on tour (the second major of the season) -- a missed cut as an amateur in 2009. The younger Woods, a standout at Wake Forest University, announced last week that she was making the transition from college to the professional ranks.

Meanwhile, Yani Tseng brings her star power, No. 1 ranking, and three 2012 tour wins to New Jersey this week for the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Tseng, who cadged spots among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people last month and was rated the 10th most marketable athlete in the world two weeks ago by SportsProMedia, is one of 21 of the top 25 players in women’s golf to tee it up starting Friday in Galloway, N.J. She’ll try to keep 12th-ranked Brittany Lincicome from defending her title on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.

Lincicome, who won last year’s event by one stroke, went on to capture the Canadian Women’s Open and post five more top-10 finishes in 2011. The seventh-year pro is still looking for her first triumph of this season, as are No. 3 Suzann Pettersen, fifth-ranked Cristie Kerr, and No. 13 Paula Creamer.

Meanwhile, No. 7 Stacy Lewis has her sights set on becoming the highest-ranked American on tour. With six top-10s and one missed cut so far in 2012, Lewis leads the U.S. contingent in Player of the Year points but is third behind Tseng and reigning Kraft Nabisco champion Sun Young Yoo.

Change was the name of the game for Kerr, who made yet another caddie switch. For the second consecutive tourney, Kerr replaced her looper, this time swapping Jason Gilroyd, who had been on her bag for the last two years, for old friend Worth Blackwelder. Blackwelder caddied for Kerr at the beginning of her career and helped her to five tour victories.

“I had been struggling with some caddie issues,” Kerr told reporters Wednesday. “I let my caddie of a few years go after Mobile and then had a temporary guy at [the Sybase Match Play Championship two weeks ago, where Kerr was eliminated in the third round] and I was pretty uncomfortable on the golf course. Not his fault, just kind of a bad situation.”

Kerr said it was difficult to find an on-course partner with the right blend of personality and know-how.

“I like to be part of the team,” she said. “Yes, I like to drive the ship but I like to have a teammate out there.”

Kerr hoped that Blackwelder would add some stability to her game. “He’s really easy-going and he keeps me peaceful and he’s really supportive,” she said. “He’s just a good caddie so I’m comfortable and feel like I’m going to be ready to go for the rest of the year now.”

Working with someone who knew her game was important to the 14-time tour winner. “I’m glad I’m going to have some kind of continuity and somebody that’s familiar and someone that’s a good caddie and positive,” Kerr said. “He’s exactly what I need right now and hopefully it will work out for the long term.”

Kerr, whose father is a Vietnam veteran, spent Memorial Day honoring members of the military by hosting 50 servicewomen and men at Liberty National Golf Course in New York. The event raised $15,000 for the Wall Street War Fighter Foundation, which helps wounded military personnel train for jobs in finance.

Other notables in this week’s field include:

  • Lexi Thompson, who began her professional career at this tournament in 2010 at the age of 15 (she missed the cut by four strokes)
  • Natalie Gulbis, who’s had two top-10s in seven starts so far this year
  • Michelle Wie, who’ll be coming off three consecutive missed cuts to go with a T38 and a 59th-place finish
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