Major coup for Tseng, 19

Hjorth falls on 4th LPGA playoff hole

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / June 9, 2008

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - What generated the hype for this year's McDonald's LPGA Championship was an old story - the consistent brilliance of Lorena Ochoa. But the story line that stole the show is a young one - yesterday's stunning victory on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff by 19-year-old rookie Yani Tseng of Taiwan.

Playing the 422-yard, par-4 18th hole at Bulle Rock Golf Course for the third time in 45 minutes, Tseng rolled in a 5-foot birdie to defeat Sweden's Maria Hjorth to win her first major.

Shocking stuff, especially given the contrast of the playoff participants - Tseng in just her third major and 11th tournament as a Tour member, Hjorth in her 38th and 261st. The women who had shot 4-under-par 68 (Tseng) and 71 (Hjorth) to finish tied at 12-under 276 offered quite a contrast, but the fact they were left standing after a weekend of suffocating heat was a subplot in itself, for so much drama appeared to be on the horizon with the two players who tied for third, one shot out of the playoff - Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam.

Trying to keep alive her Grand Slam hopes and win her third straight major, Ochoa never got untracked on the greens and matched scores (71) and leaderboard space at 11-under 277 with Sorenstam, the onetime queen of the game who wants a major celebration or two in her final season of competition. A birdie at the opening hole enabled Ochoa to secure a share of the lead and Sorenstam stiffed an approach at the par-4 fifth to grab the outright lead for the only time all week, but neither could manufacture a crucial birdie putt when needed.

"Just didn't convert," said Sorenstam. "I'm disappointed, because I felt like I played so well."

"It wasn't my time," said Ochoa, who had won six times in nine starts entering the week. "I thought something would happen."

It did, but to a rookie whose claims to fame were amateur victories over Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel, and to an unheralded veteran who four years ago had slumped so badly she had to go to Qualifying School.

"I couldn't believe it. Everything just came so fast," said Tseng, who started the day tied for fourth, four shots back. Hjorth began in second place, a shot behind, and each was chasing third-round leader Jee Young Lee, who wilted in a heat index that was said to be 107.1 degrees. Out in 38, Lee shot 78 - 282 and crashed into a share of 18th, but no such worries for the others in the lead groups. Tseng went out in 32, Sorenstam in 34, and Hjorth in 35 to get into a three-way tie at 12 under, and Ochoa was 11 under after an opening birdie and eight straight pars.

What unfolded was a wild back nine in which shots into the rough and onto the rocks failed to sidetrack Tseng and Hjorth, while the game's top-ranked players failed to make a big putt.

At the par-4 13th, Hjorth and her colleagues proved no match for the 415-yard dogleg right. Hjorth lost her drive in the high grass left and made double, Tseng was wild right and made bogey, while Sorenstam made her only bogey of the day and Ochoa her second straight bogey on the back.

It left Hjorth, Tseng, and Sorenstam tied for the lead at 11 under, but the race soon would become a two-way affair. First, Tseng slipped home a 10-foot birdie at the par-4 14th to go up by one, then Hjorth had back-to-back dramatics, one that was fortuitous, the other skillful. At the par-5 15th, Hjorth's second shot was short, but it hit a rock and bounced onto the fringe, from where she made birdie. Then, at the par-4 16th, Hjorth deftly pitched in from the first cut of rough behind the hole, a 15-foot birdie that pushed her to 13 under, one clear of Tseng.

"I played solid golf all day," said Hjorth, who missed the green short side at the par-3 17th and couldn't get up and down. Up ahead, Tseng came home in four pars to get in at 12 under and officially deny victory to Ochoa and Sorenstam, but Hjorth joined her for a playoff, that went from the par-4 18th to the 16th to the 17th, and in each instance, the young lady from Taiwan missed her birdie chance first. So, too, did Hjorth, which was testing the youngster's nerves.

"I was very nervous," said Tseng. "After I saw she missed, I was like, 'Oh, that's good.' "

At the fourth playoff hole, No. 18, though she missed the fairway right, Tseng took aim at a hole location back left and drilled an approach to 6 feet. Hjorth couldn't quite answer, though her 9-iron from 143 yards gave her a 15-foot birdie try. Like the three previous holes in the playoff, the Swede was wide, thus the spotlight belonged to Tseng.

And just what was she thinking?

"I just tell myself, 'Just make this putt and win a major championship,' " said Tseng.

She did, too, and in addition to the $300,000 prize, she continued on a sort of tear that impressed LPGA Tour observers. In the 10 tournaments she had played prior to this week, Tseng finished second twice and top-20 seven times. She became the first since Se Ri Pak in 1998 to win a major in her rookie year, but while she conceded dreaming of this happening, never did she think it would occur so fast.

Tseng was asked about her homeland's most famous golfer, T.C. Chen.

"When he came to practice, we just played together and he always [would] teach me something," said Tseng, who is aware of the infamous double-hit out of the rough at the 1985 US Open that cost Chen a chance to win that major.

Tseng, her round of five birdies and one bogey earning her immediate fame, said she had seen clips of Chen's miscue and she laughed. "I couldn't believe it," she said. "That's not really a hard shot."

She laughed again, but Tseng had a request: "Don't tell him that, because I feel bad."

About the misfortune that happened 23 years ago for her fellow golfer from Taiwan, not her stunning achievement.

Jim McCabe can be reached at

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