After scoring her first sub-70 round of golf in more than two months, Yani Tseng heaved a sigh of relief and issued a smile following a flawless 5-under 67 Saturday at the Safeway Classic.
“It’s been a long time,” Tseng told reporters about a stellar round that got her to 7-under and a tie for fifth place, four shots behind leader Mika Miyazato, heading into Sunday’s finale of the 54-hole contest. “It feels great.”
Top-ranked Tseng, who entered the week with two straight missed cuts and her third caddie of the season, credited PGA champ Rory McIlroy with motivating her comeback.
“He had four missed cuts in a row, I only have two, so I'm better off than he was,” Tseng said. “But he's just trying to forget about everything, and just go out there and try to do the best that he can.”
Tseng said McIlroy’s pre-major interview inspired her to play the best golf she’s managed since June, when she shared 12th place at the Shoprite LPGA Classic.
“He was saying this is the thing that he always do when he was a kid, so there is [no reason] to put more pressure and be hard on yourself. Just be more relaxed and enjoy every shot that you can,” said Tseng. “He said when you play good, it's always easy to do it. But when you're playing bad, it's very hard to do.”
Tseng joked that her “two-month vacation” was over and she looked forward to adding to her early-season tally of three victories -- though she said she had plenty of time to play herself back into the winner’s circle.
“There is a long way to go this year. We have so many tournaments,” she said. “I can get back slowly. I don't have to win this week. I can play well tomorrow and maybe next week I'll win, but you never know.
“I don't want to rush, because I feel like I'm too rushed and it gets worse,” Tseng added. “So I'll play step by step and one shot at a time and do the best I can tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, this has not been the rookie season Lexi Thompson envisioned for herself when she deferred her LPGA membership from 2011 to 2012. The 17-year-old, who has now missed three cuts this year and trails So Yeon Ryu (last week’s Jamie Farr Toledo Classic winner and in second place after two rounds this week) in the Rookie of the Year race, bowed out of the Safeway Classic after a quadruple bogey led to a disheartening 81.
It all unraveled for Thompson on the par-4 17th, when she duffed her approach shot down a slope and into the hay to the right of the green. After a conference with an official, she took an unplayable lie and a penalty stroke, only to shank her next shot back up into the heavy stuff. After another unplayable lie, a shaky shot into the rough, and two putts, Thompson limped away with an eight and sympathy from at least one of her playing partners.
“You never want to see that. As a golfer, you never want to watch somebody struggle,” said Paula Creamer, who, along with Cristie Kerr, had to wait for about 15 minutes while Thompson imploded. “We've all been there... It's tough, especially on the 17th hole. You don't want that to happen to anybody.”
Thompson has dealt with similar adversity before in the big leagues when she entered the final round of the 2011 Avnet LPGA Classic tied for the lead, but closed with a water-logged 78 and a share of 19th. She was able to put that episode behind her and go on to become the youngest golfer ever to win an LPGA event when she triumphed at the Navistar LPGA Classic last September.
Kerr and Creamer will enter Sunday's finale at 8-under and 7-under, respectively, while fan favorite Michelle Wie’s up-and-down second round included an eagle-3 on No. 9 and a couple of chip-ins for a 70. At 5-under for the week, Wie was looking for her best finish of the season, which has featured eight missed cuts and little more than $45,000 in earnings.
Final-round play has resumed at Pumpkin Ridge’s Ghost Creek Course in North Plains, Ore., with the leaders scheduled to tee off at 1:55 p.m. local time.