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Tseng still leading going into final round
March 24, 2012

Yani Tseng is seeking her third victory of the season and yet another point toward the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame following a 69 on Friday at the Kia Classic. Tseng will try to capture her 15th career LPGA Tour win tomorrow as she takes a three-shot lead over Jiyai Shin into the final round at La Costa Resort and Spa. The 69 today was the eighth sub-70 round in her last nine attempts and the ninth consecutive under-par round dating back to the Honda LPGA Thailand for Tseng.

Tseng’s day, which climaxed with a 370 yard drive on the 18th hole where her ball hit the cart path, rolled over a bridge, could have been much better if not for four short birdie misses on the front nine. The 23-year-old also missed a short birdie putt on the 17th hole, but managed to maintain her lead entering final round play.

“No. 18 that was a pretty lucky shot,” Tseng said. “I don't know how that happened. It goes over the bridge, and the bridge was like three yards wide. People are telling me, Yani, you just hit a 370 yard drive there, so that was probably the longest drive I've ever hit.

“I was very happy because I just got lucky there. To be able to hit it on the green for the second shot. But overall with my round I just wasn't happy. I couldn't believe how much short putt I missed out there.”

This marks the 12th time in Yani Tseng’s career that she has led or co-led heading into the final round of a tournament. In the 11 previous instances, Tseng has gone on to win six times. She went 0 for 4 to start her career in 2008 and 2009, but since then she’s 6 for 7, her only loss coming at last year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, where Stacy Lewis became a Rolex First-Time Winner in 2011. Tseng was tied for the lead with Ai Miyazato heading into the final round of last week’s RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup before shooting a final-round 68 to capture the victory.

So how does Tseng feel heading into the final round of play this week?

“I kind of feel pretty relaxed,” Tseng said. “I mean, I was pretty happy today. But after I'm going to go putt a little bit and practice a little bit. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I'll play with Jiyai, maybe. I mean, we're good friends, so I think we're going to have lots of fun on the golf course and try to beat each other.”

Jiyai Shin earned the nickname “Final Round Queen” early in her career for her propensity for coming back and winning in the final rounds. Now she’ll have another opportunity to see if she can stage a fourth-round comeback.

Shin will enter Sunday sitting three strokes behind Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng. For Shin, who lost to Sandra Gal on the 72nd hole at last year’s Kia Classic when it was played at Pacific Palms just outside Los Angeles, it will be another chance to claim a tournament that she would very much like to win.

“This tournament is a Korean company that sponsors it, so I'm all the time thinking about that,” Shin said. “I appreciate the sponsor every time. In California, here they have a lot of Korean people, so they're watching and cheering for me, so it feels like I'm really ready to go when I play. The last couple years I played good in this tournament, so I only have good memories.”

In addition to her runner-up finish at last year’s event, Shin also finished T3 when the 2010 Kia Classic was played here at La Costa Resort.

Jiyai Shin has two top-10 finishes already this season and has finished no worse than 18th in her four previous events this year. So what has been a key to Shin’s strong play at the start of the year? Shin said that one thing she worked on this offseason was improving the way that she walks during her round. Sound strange? The 23-year-old South Korean that she felt an increased confidence in her walk might help her overall demeanor.

“I don't know when I got the problem, but last year when I looked at my walking, it looks like tired and so flat,” Shin said. “So I tried to get more confidence with walking first.

“So when I play with a strong player, some people they already feel like oh, she's good, she's good. They already give up before they start. But I know how I'm good, and I have a lot of confidence right now in my shot and my putting is okay. So I just keep focusing for my confidence and for my play.”

There were plenty of birdies to be seen on the 17th hole during Saturday’s third round, just not the typical golf kind. A flock of coots took over the final two holes on the South Course during play and made for an interesting sight as they mingled on the 17th green.

Yani Tseng was asked if it was a little bizarre to see all the birds on the green at 17 when she was hitting her approach shot in from the rough.

“That was very funny because at the beginning of today I just told my caddie that the ducks might be trained before because they never walk on the green,” Tseng said with a laugh. “They only walk on the fairway. Until the 17th hole, I saw like all the birds on the green. I was really surprised.

She hit her shot to around four-feet without knocking any of the birds, but she wasn’t able to make a “birdie” of her own as she missed the putt.

“I was ready to hit, and I see all the birds there and I backed out again,” Tseng added. “I said, I think I'm going to hit the birds and I don't want that. Is there anyway the birds can go away? And my caddie said, if I run there, the birds are going to run away, but if I come back, they're going to go back on the green again. And my caddie just told me, you won't hit a bird, and I said, okay. Then I didn't make birdie, too.”

Caroline Hedwall has yet to win on the LPGA Tour, but she is no stranger to what it takes to pull out a victory. Hedwall spent the majority of the 2011 season playing on the Ladies European Tour and captured four victories on the LET en route to earning the Tour’s Rookie of the Year honors.

“I think I'm used to the situation,” said Hedwall, who will enter Sunday’s final round five shots back of Tseng. “It's not really any different from playing in Europe. I feel the same pressure wherever I am, and hopefully I can play well.”

And while Hedwall will be trying to chase down the No. 1 player in the world, she understands what her approach will have to be going into the round.

“I know that she knows how to play well under pressure, and obviously, I'm going to have to get off to a good start and try to put as much pressure as possible on her,” Hedwall said. “She knows how to win. That's obvious.”

Final-round tee times for the 2012 Kia Classic have been adjusted to account for inclement weather in the Sunday forecast. Tee times will begin at 7:30 a.m. PT in threesomes off the first and 10th tees with the leader group finishing on the 18th hole between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m.

The low round of the day belonged to Sun Young Yoo, who shot a 5-under 67. The round helped Yoo to jump from a T9 into sole possession of fourth place at 7-under-par. She’ll enter Sunday’s final round sitting four shots back of leader Yani Tseng.

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