Tseng, who’s holding on to the No. 1 ranking by a thread, appeared to pick up at the 2012 Founders Cup where she left off after a dominating 2011 season. It was in Phoenix where she notched her second of three wins in her first five events.
After a mid-season swoon, Tseng finished with three top-10s in four competitions and added two more in the first three events to begin her 2013 campaign. This week, she hopes to put a 22-tournament winless streak behind her and pick up her first W since the Kia Classic last March.
Tseng, saying she was ready for the challenge, contended the physical and psychological issues that hampered her play last year were behind her.
“It was a shoulder and my elbow but I think it's a lot mental, too. It's there, but it's getting better now,” she told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of this week’s tilt at Wildfire Golf Club. “I feel very good, I feel very fresh in this first tournament in the U.S.”
A win in Phoenix would give Tseng her 16th career tour triumph and some breathing room atop the Rolex Rankings. The robust field, which includes reigning Player of the Year and third-ranked Stacy Lewis, No. 6 Jiyai Shin, and fourth-ranked Inbee Park -- winners of the season’s first three event -- might have something to do with whether Tseng goes back-to-back.
Indeed, the race for the top spot has heated up of late. After a history-making 109 weeks ahead of the pack, Tseng has watched her lead shrink to just .62 average world-ranking points over Na Yeon Choi, who’s also playing this week, and .63 ahead of Lewis.
The 24-year-old, who in 2011 became the youngest player ever to win five major championships, said maintaining her position was not her primary concern.
“This year I don't want to focus on world No. 1....I just want to have fun and enjoy as more as I can because I know last year I paid too much attention to world No. 1,” Tseng said. “I feel like I tried to stay on top and tried to play well instead of getting there, instead of like just have fun and keep doing what I'm used to doing.... I just want to play as a child, and I feel like I lost that enjoyment for playing golf last year.”
Tseng said external tensions began to build after she tied for 12th in the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June.
“I think I was like eight straight top 10s last year, and after I didn't finish top 10 and people started asking me, ‘What's wrong with Yani,’” she said. “I think that is time I feel really pressure.”
As for the bull’s eye on Tseng’s back, Lewis, for one, was taking aim.
“Another win would definitely do a lot in the rankings, so it's definitely been on my mind,” said the winner of six official tour events who’s coming off a two-shot victory over Choi at the HSBC Women’s Champions two weeks ago in Singapore. “I'm playing well, so it's definitely we're getting close.”
Lewis also said she would deal with the stress of being the world’s best if and when the time came.
“I know Yani's talked a lot about No. 1 in the world being a lonely place,” said Lewis, who overcame scoliosis as an adolescent and teenager to rise to the elite among women’s golf. “I've always thought it's kind of the approach you take to it. For me, I never expected to be No. 1 in the world, so if I get there one day, I'm going to enjoy the heck out of it because there's no way that kid growing up in a back brace would ever think about being the best golfer in the world.
“I think it's a lot about kind of the mindset you have going into it,” Lewis said.