Yani Tseng sympathizes with Rory McIlroy

Stuart Franklin

Yani Tseng is as close as she’s been in two years to losing the top ranking in women’s golf, but the youngest player ever to win five major championships claimed it might be a relief to relinquish her post.

The 24-year-old from Taiwan also told reporters following a T28 finish at the HSBC Women’s Champions on Sunday -- 13 shots back of Stacy Lewis’ 15-under winning score -- that she understood the pressures that may have forced the men’s No. 1 Rory McIlroy to withdraw abruptly from last week’s Honda Classic.

The rankings released Monday showed Tseng with 9.53 average world-ranking points, ahead of HSBC runner-up Na Yeon Choi by just .68 and Lewis by .69. Tseng, who shot out of the gate at the start of 2012 after a dominating 2011 season has struggled to regain her form since a wretched swoon midway through last year. Her most recent victory was last March at the Kia Classic.

"I don't care if I lose [the top ranking]. I don't really care about world number one now -- I just want to have fun," Tseng told Global Post. "World number one, I know it's good and people like it, but I want to care about myself more and I just want to enjoy [myself]. If I lose [it], I'll get back one day too."

Tseng’s remarks followed by two days McIlroy’s early exit from the second round of the PGA Tour event in Florida, which was not that far removed from his much-scrutinized January debut as a Nike golfer. McIlroy, who has had a rough start to his season -- a missed cut, a first-round loss in match play, and now last week's WD -- initially said on Friday he was “not in a good place mentally," but subsequently blamed a painful toothache for his walkout after going 7-over in eight holes.

The 2012 defending Honda Classic champion has pushed back a meeting with the press ahead of this week’s WGC-Cadillac Classic from Tuesday to Wednesday, when he will reportedly address his withdrawal, which has drawn brickbats from pundits and players alike. Jack Nicklaus, whom McIlroy has turned to for advice since he moved to the Bear’s Trap, the 18-time major winner’s home course in Jupiter, Fla., was perhaps the biggest name to reprimand his young protege for conduct unbecoming.

"He shouldn't have walked off the course," Nicklaus said during NBC’s broadcast of the tournament Sunday. "If he would have thought about it for five minutes, he probably wouldn't have done it.....I think he’s probably just so frustrated with what’s happening with the way he’s been playing the last month or so that it just got to him.”

If anyone can relate to McIlroy’s frustrations, it’s Tseng, who conceded that the mantle of the top ranking weighed heavily on her shoulders and had played a large part in last year’s slump. She imagined that McIlroy was dealing with similar pressures.

"Last year he struggled in the middle of the season too but he finished strong and [regained] world number one. He will be back soon," said Tseng, who noted that few others could apprehend the stress of being No. 1. She said she had to navigate her own path out of the morass, as did McIlroy.

"It's tough and it's very lonely," she said. "No one knows how it feels. Everybody wants to be in your shoes but no one knows how tough it is.

"Not many people have been there before, so I don't have many people to ask what should I do. You just need to find your way to stay on top as long as you can,” Tseng said. "Annika [Sorenstam, the LPGA Hall of Famer Tseng considers her mentor] has a different way, Tiger [Woods], Rory; everybody has a different way to stay on top but you need to find your way

“Now I'm looking for how can I be on top for as long [as possible],” she said, “but sometimes I even feel maybe number two is good."

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