RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Yani Tseng lost the No. 1 spot in the world to Stacy Lewis three weeks ago in Phoenix, then was booted out of the Kia Classic a few days later when she overslept and missed her pro-am tee time.
Winless in more than a year, Tseng, 24, enters the Kraft Nabisco Championship in a far different position and frame of mind than she did last season.
“I’m totally fine,” Tseng said a day before the start of play at Mission Hills. “It takes a lot of pressure off. I feel like I don’t have to play like world No. 1 anymore. I mean, that gave me a lot of pressure. I think sometimes it feels really good that you can say to yourself that your goal is to be world No. 1. So now world No. 1 gives me a lot of motivation.”
Last year, she won three of the first five tournaments of the season and entered the major championship fresh off consecutive victories in Phoenix and Carlsbad. She hasn’t won since, a drought that has hit 23 events, and has dropped her to No. 2 in the world.
“I just want to enjoy the golf,” said Tseng, the 2010 winner at Mission Hills. “This is a game I loved when I was young, and I just want to play like childlike. I just want to smile on the golf course and show my best to the fans and to the people out there watching me and supporting me.”
Lewis has six victories in her last 24 events. She won four times last season to take the player of the year award and added consecutive titles this year in Singapore and Phoenix to wrest away the No. 1 spot – and the burdens that go with it.
“It’s been chaos is what it’s been,” Lewis said. “I think with all the requests and all the attention, I expected it, but it was a little bit overwhelming. I was glad we had a week off last week and just got away and took some time off and really just cleared my head. Coming back this week I feel really relaxed.”
Lewis, 28, won the 2011 tournament for her first LPGA Tour title, beating second-place Tseng by three strokes. She watched Tseng struggle with the pressure of being No. 1 and hopes to avoid the setbacks that plagued her friendly rival.
“I just have to keep worrying about myself and keep doing what I’m doing,” Lewis said. “Talking to my mom, I said, ‘I’m going to be the same person that I was before. I’m going to do the same things, because what I’m doing is working, so there is no reason to get to this point and change everything. I’m still the same person. I’m still going to work hard every day. That’s not going to change.’”
New Zealand amateur star Lydia Ko is making her first start in the event.
Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open last August to become the youngest LPGA Tour winner at 15 years, 4 months, 2 days. The South Korea-born Ko has two other victories in pro events, winning the New South Wales Open last year and the New Zealand Women’s Open this year.
“It’s really good to be up here,” said Ko, also the U.S. Women’s Amateur winner last summer. “I played the course a couple times and it’s in really good form. This tournament, it’s a major and the world’s greatest players are here. I’m very fortunate to be out here.”
Ko will play alongside Michelle Wie the first two days. They also were paired together the first two days in the season-opening Australian Women’s Open. Ko opened with rounds of 63 and 69 and went on to finish third behind Jiyai Shin, while Wie shot 74-73 to miss the cut.
“I got to know a little bit more about her,” Ko said. “I think she’s a very good player and I’m very excited to be able to play with her.”
Last year, Sun Young Yoo won with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole after I.K. Kim blew a one-stroke lead when she missed a 1-foot putt on the final hole of regulation.
“You got to just pick yourself up and be tough and just move on,” Kim said.
Tseng showed up on time for her pro-am round Tuesday, and could afford to sleep late without fear Thursday with a 1:14 p.m. tee time.
“So many people have given me alarm clocks,” Tseng said. “But a few days ago, I set it off like 10 times. Everything was good. My phone was working. My alarm clock is working, so everything’s ready to go.”