World No. 1 Yani Tseng must be hearing footsteps. Because a few more rounds like the flawless 9-under-par 63 that Stacy Lewis opened with Thursday at the Evian Masters, and the top-ranked American golfer in the world may be toppling Tseng from her perch atop the world golf rankings.
Lewis, who made the turn at 5-under 31 and in the midst of seven consecutive birdies, ended her sizzling play with two birds on Nos. 17 and 18 to take a two-stroke lead over Hee Young Park with most of the players in the clubhouse.
Tseng, mired in a horrific slump that includes her first missed cut in more than a year, a T59 at the LPGA Championship, and a share of 50th place at the recent U.S. Women’s Open, showed no signs of snapping out of it. With new caddie Basil van Rooyen on the bag, the youngest winner of five major championships wobbled in at 76.
Continuing her recent woes from tee to green, the two-time reigning Player of the Year found just nine of 14 fairways and 12 greens in regulation. Tseng’s short game also let her down, as she needed 34 putts to get through the round.
Lewis, on the other hand, began the day with four straight pars and then went on a birdie tear from holes five through 11. While also hitting just nine fairways, the University of Arkansas grad was dead on with her approach shots, landing on the putting surfaces in 16 of 18 tries. With hot flat stick in hand, Lewis required only 26 putts.
Lewis began the 2012 LPGA season aimed at becoming the top-ranked American player in the world. She accomplished that goal midway through the season when she won her second tour event of the year, last month’s ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The 27-year-old Texan was ranked second for several weeks in June and into July but entered this week trailing No. 2 Na Yeon Choi by some 40 points. Choi, who won the Women’s Open, completed her day with two birdies to sit at 3-over -- 12 strokes behind Lewis.
Whatever the outcome this week, Tseng will leave France still ensconced at the head of the class. Should her struggles continue while Lewis soars, however, Tseng’s seat on the throne is bound to grow increasingly uncomfortable.