JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Yani Tseng is starting to draw comparisons with Tiger Woods when he was at his absolute best.
Coming off a year in which she won 12 times around the world, Tseng started a new season by winning three of the opening five tournaments on the LPGA Tour schedule. In the other two, she missed a playoff by two shots in Australia and one shot in Singapore.
Her points total atop the women’s world ranking is nearly double that of Na Yeon Choi at No. 2. Tseng already has $792,186, more than the next two players combined and the equivalent of No. 27 on the PGA Tour, astounding when you consider the disparity of prize money.
Heading into the first LPGA major of the year, Tseng is the overwhelming favorite.
If she were to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship this week, Tseng would have six majors. And if she were to pick off the U.S. Women’s Open this summer, she would have the career Grand Slam.
Not bad for someone who turned 23 just two months ago, and who is starting her fifth year on tour.
More than adding to her collection of majors, a win this week would put Tseng on the cusp of meeting the performance criteria for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Either way, she would appear to be a shoo-in to get the required 27 points this year.
That’s where the comparisons with Woods take shape. Is she that good? Or is her competition lacking?
These are the questions Woods faced when he won seven out of 11 majors in one stretch early in his career, then backed it up by winning six out of 14. Jack Nicklaus was among those who lamented the lack of multiple major winners as he faced in his day. Tom Watson was among those suggesting history might prove Woods was simply that much better.
COMPARISONS TEND TO BE as pointless between generations as they are between genders. The LPGA Tour, however, has been getting the short shrift for years.
Years ago, Karrie Webb pointed out that if a woman won a major at 19-under par, then the course was said to be too easy. And if a woman won a major at 6-over par, then they just weren’t very good.
That’s how the LPGA Hall of Fame is perceived, and Tseng is sure to add to the debate. She would be the fifth woman to reach the performance standards in seven years or fewer. The others were Webb, Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Lorena Ochoa.
Is Tseng that good? Or has the bar been set too low?
The LPGA Tour used to have the most stringent criteria for any Hall of Fame. It used a sliding performance scale – 30 wins and five majors, 35 wins and one major or 40 wins and no majors. Small wonder that only 14 women were in the Hall of Fame.
A committee worked years before finally changing it in 1999. Since then, 10 players have been inducted, all deserving.
Now the measure is 27 points – two points for a major, one point for an LPGA win, one point for player of the year, one point for winning the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Players also must be on tour for 10 years before they can be inducted.
Webb needed only five years to get her 27 points, during a time in her career when she won the career Grand Slam in a span of eight majors, the quickest of anyone. Webb and Sorenstam were so good they would have qualified under the old system. Ditto for Juli Inkster, whose career was interrupted to raise two daughters.
Meg Mallon was part of the committee that changed the Hall of Fame criteria, and she has no qualms with players qualifying so quickly.
“We were looking at a Hall of Fame where nobody was going in,” Mallon said Tuesday. “We still wanted it to be for players who separated themselves in their generation. Yani has separated herself. She deserves the Hall of Fame. We’ve had players go in at both ages, and we still think it reflects who was the best.”
AS FOR THE COMPETITION? That’s difficult to measure.
Making it even more peculiar in women’s golf is the recent passing of the torch. Sorenstam looked unbeatable until Ochoa ended the Swede’s dominance and then was in a league of her own until she, too, abruptly retired.
Ochoa was going for her third consecuive major at the 2008 LPGA Championship, leading through 36 holes, when a 19-year-old rookie from Taiwan came along and beat her. That was Tseng, who went on to win the Nabisco and the Women’s British Open in 2010, then the LPGA Championship and the Women’s British last year.
Now, it’s Tseng who rules her sport.
Missing from the LPGA Tour is what Nicklaus once rued about the PGA Tour – a half-dozen players who seemed to be in the hunt at majors just about every year.
That group featured Pat Bradley, Amy Alcott, Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan and Betsy King. During the 1980s alone, they combined to win 15 out of the 40 majors, and collectively they had 54 finishes in the top five. Alcott was the only one from that group who did not win player of the year during that decade.
Tseng’s greatest competition comes from the legacy of Woods. Just her luck, she won at La Costa shortly before Woods returned to winning on the PGA Tour at Bay Hill.