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Three-way tie in California
March 22, 2012

Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng, two-time LPGA Tour winner Ji Young Oh and second-year LPGA Tour member Caroline Hedwall are tied for the first-round lead at the 2012 Kia Classic after shooting 5-under 67s on Thursday. Both Tseng and Oh had six birdies and one bogey while Hedwall tallied seven birdies and two bogeys in the opening round on the South Course at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.

Sitting one stroke behind the leaders are Rolex Rankings No. 3 Suzann Pettersen, No. 8 Jiyai Shin, No. 10 Brittany Lincicome and Carlsbad native Jennifer Johnson. They all opened with a 4-under-par 68 in the first round.

It’s becoming common practice to see Yani Tseng’s name at the top of the leaderboard and so it was no surprise to see her name up there once again after Thursday’s first round of the Kia Classic.

Certainly Tseng’s fellow competitors, including one of her playing partners on Thursday Suzann Pettersen, have come to expect the world’s No. 1 to deliver these kind of performances. That’s true even when Tseng doesn’t necessarily have her ‘A’ game as was the case in the first round when she hit only 8 fairways and 12 greens in regulation.

“She hits a lot of great shots,” Pettersen said. “Her bad shots are still very acceptable. She recovers well from whenever she is in trouble. She has a pretty sharp short game. That's probably what saves her the most. She can be more aggressive and even afford to miss a green on the short side, even kind of saving her par. So overall, I think she's a very good ball striker. I think that's probably one of her strengths. She hits it fairly straight, and like I said, the more you practice, the luckier you get.”

Tseng has been on quite a run recently, which includes winning two of the first four LPGA events this season. She was asked on Thursday if she’s had time to really appreciate what she’s been able to do over the past year since taking over the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings.

“I'm enjoying it,” Tseng said. “I'm always excited for every week, every week that's coming up and trying to win every tournament.”

“I'm learning from mistakes and every tournament I'm learning something, so that's pretty good for me,” she added. “Because it's very exciting to see this year what can I improve on my game? What can I improve on my fitness, my mental? And just to see how far I can go.”

Two-time LPGA Tour winner Ji Young Oh could be deemed an “unexpected co-leader” after 18 holes of the Kia Classic. The 23-year-old South Korean closed her round with back-to-back birdies to shoot 5-under-par 67, the lowest number she has tallied on the LPGA Tour since late 2009 when she shot 67 in the final round of the Mizuno Classic. Oh, who made just one cut in 11 events last season while battling an injury to her left hip, recorded six birdies – all of which were putts within six feet – and one bogey to match scorecards with Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng. So far this season, Oh has missed the cut at the season-opening ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and tied for 68th at last week’s RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.

The first round of the Kia Classic was nearly complete when a third player joined the top of the leaderboard. Caroline Hedwall, who teed off in the second to last group off No. 1 on Thursday, shot a 5-under-67 to take a share of the lead with Yani Tseng and Ji Young Oh. Hedwall, who has finished no worse than T12 in her first three LPGA events in what is her sophomore season on Tour, is still seeking her first career win on the LPGA Tour. She played the majority of her events last season on the Ladies European Tour and earned LET Rookie of the Year honors.

“I've been hitting it very solid lately,” Hedwall said. “I felt like if I could have a good day, I could shoot low. I made a lot of birdies and made it close, so that helped a lot.”

Carlsbad native and La Costa member Jennifer Johnson stole the spotlight as the sun faded over the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. The 20-year-old local star shot 4-under-par 68 to move into a four-way tie for third after 18 holes at the third-annual Kia Classic. Johnson, who made 10 of 13 cuts during her rookie campaign last season, carded six birdies and two bogies on her home turf in front of 15 friends and family who watched her round.

“You definitely have some expectations for yourself,” Johnson said of playing her home course. “But the greens are a little bumpy, and I think that's where I have the advantage, just knowing sometimes they don't break. Sometimes they bump in or bump out, and definitely the ball had a little base, so that helped too.”

Tee to green, Rolex Rankings No. 3 Suzann Pettersen is often considered one of the best ball-strikers in the women’s game, but her putter occasionally leaves a bit to be desired. The 30-year-old Norwegian last season enlisted the help of famed putting guru Dave Stockton in advance of the Sybase Match Play Championship, where she recorded her seventh-career LPGA Tour victory. Pettersen, who now boasts eight victories, again called on Stockton this week to work on her stroke in advance of Thursday’s first round at La Costa Resort and Spa’s South Course.

“Since I started with him almost a year ago, for the most part, I've been putting a lot, lot better,” she said. “It's a lot less technical which is, for me, probably the biggest change. But that being said, you want putting to be the easiest thing you do on the golf course. That's what we're trying to make it.”

Pettersen used 26 putts on Thursday to move into a tie for third at 4-under-par 68 with Rolex Rankings No. 8 Jiyai Shin, No. 10 Brittany Lincicome and La Costa member Jennifer Johnson

Rolex Rankings No. 8 Jiyai Shin may be trying to avenge her 72nd hole defeat at last season’s Kia Classic, played outside of Los Angeles at Pacific Palms. The former World No. 1 sits one shot off the lead in a tie with Suzann Pettersen at 4-under-par 68 after 18 holes of play at La Costa Resort and Spa. Last year, Shin was the victim of a final-hole birdie from eventual winner Sandra Gal, leaving her alone in second place. The 2009 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, Shin has finished no worse than a tie for 18th in four starts this season including a third place finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand where she closed the week with three consecutive rounds in the 60’s.

While Pettersen was quick to praise Tseng, she also couldn’t help but to chide her good friend a little for what she called a “lucky” shot on their final hole of the day.

Having teed off on No. 10, the group of Pettersen, Tseng and Paula Creamer finished up their rounds on the par-4 ninth. After pushing her drive to the left, Tseng hit her second shot to the fringe on the left side of the green and watched it kick down the downslope and wind up three or four feet from the pin.

“You didn't see the last shot?” Pettersen said. “She hit it left of the green, and got the bounce and it came in to about four feet. But like I said, it's a great shot. It's good to see young, aggressive players because I used to be like that as well. You just get a little bit more conservative the older you get.”

Christina Kim, Brittany Lincicome and Stacy Lewis will pull double duty on Friday at the Kia Classic. The trio will leave the golf clubs behind after the second round in favor of jobs with Golf Channel. Christina Kim will take over for play-by-play man Rich Lerner in the booth, Brittany Lincicome will try her hand at producing the telecast and Stacy Lewis will venture out to the 13th hole to operate a camera. Tune into second round coverage of the Kia Classic on Friday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Eastern.

Defending champion Sandra Gal shot an opening-round, even-par 72 and currently sits in a T28…Amy Yang has put herself in good position through one round after shooting a 69 on Thursday. Yang, who is still seeking her first career win, had three top-5 finishes last season including two runner-up finishes…Karen Stupples withdrew after the first round of play on Thursday…Michelle Wie will be the first female guest of David Feherty on his Golf Channel show Feherty which will air on Monday night at 10 p.m. ET. The episode was shot on the campus of Stanford University where Wie has been attending college. The 22-year-old took her last set of finals at Stanford last week.

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