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Thursday March 29, 2012

Yani is starting to draw comparisons with Woods when he was at his best

JACKSONVILLE (Florida): Tseng Yani 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, Yani 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 Choi Na-yeon at No. 2. Yani has US$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, Yani is the overwhelming favourite.

If she were to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship this week, Yani will have six Majors. And if she were to pick off the US Women’s Open this summer, she would have the career Grand Slam.

Too good: Tseng Yani has started the season by winning three out of the opening five tournaments and she is heading into the first LPGA Major as the overwhelming favourite. — AP

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 Yani 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.

And that’s where the comparisons with Woods take shape.

Is she that good? Or is her competition lacking?

These are the questions that Woods faced when he won seven out of 11 Majors in one stretch early in his career, and then backed it up by winning six out of 14. Jack Nicklaus was among those who lamented the lack of multiple Major winners like what Nicklaus faced in his day. Tom Watson was among those suggesting that 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 Yani is sure to add to the debate.

Yani will become the fifth woman to reach the performance standards in seven years or fewer. The others were Webb, Annika Sorenstam, Pak Se-ri and Lorena Ochoa.

Is Yani 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 to finally change it in 1999. Since then, 10 players from the LPGA Tour 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 on Tuesday.

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 came along, 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 straight 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 Yani, who went on to win the Nabisco and the Women’s British Open in 2010, and then the LPGA Championship and the Wo­­men’s British last year.

Now, it’s Yani 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.

“It was hard to have that singular dominance,” Mallon said. “They all had player-of-the-year seasons. They all wanted to beat each other. Can you imagine if we still had Annika and Lorena playing, what that would have been like?”

As it is, it looks at times as though Yani is playing alone.

Her greatest competition comes from the legacy of Woods. Yani reached five Majors and 15 tour wins at a younger age than Woods. And like most of the other women before her, she’ll have to do even more to get attention.

“I feel it’s kind of my honour to be compared with him,” Yani said after winning the Kia Classic on Sunday.

Just her luck, she won at La Costa shortly before Woods returned to winning on the PGA Tour at Bay Hill.

“He’s probably going to be on the cover,” she said. — AP

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