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Yang takes first round lead with 6 under par 66
March 29, 2012

Amy Yang, 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship
Amy Yang

Rolex Rankings No. 14 Amy Yang fired a 6-under-par 66 to take the first-round lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, putting her in solid position to capture her first career win in Rancho Mirage, Calif. this week. The 22-year old South Korean carded eight birdies, four each on the front and back nine, with bogeys coming on holes No. 4 and 14. Yang is looking to break into the winner's circle at Mission Hills Country Club, having posted two career-high runner-up finishes last season and another in 2010.

Tour veteran Lindsey Wright sits one stroke behind Yang at 5-under, carding five of her six birdies on the front nine and a bogey on the par-4 16th. And Yang will certainly feel the pressure of the lurking presence of Rolex Ranking No. 1 Yani Tseng sitting two strokes back at 4-under 68 heading into the second round.

Starting off with a first round 4-under 68 and two strokes behind the lead would seem like a pretty good start to the first major championship. But the bar has been raised by Tseng and disappointed ensued after her round that she thought was sub-par.

"I was really disappointed today because I didn't hit many good shots and I didn't leave myself lots of birdie chances out there," said Tseng. "Kind of a little upset I didn't have good distance -- my second shots, I didn't have good distance control, so that's why I didn't have many birdie chances."

While it might look like Tseng is pursuing perfection in her career, she tries to keep herself grounded, knowing that playing for a flawless round may lead to worse results.

"I think I'm learning," said Tseng. "I always keep telling myself 'you don't have to play perfect, so don't try too hard to be perfect.' That's going to be very hard on me. Last few years I've been learning that even when you didn't feel your A game, you still can shoot a couple under, a few under, to put yourself in a good position, and that's how I'm learning."

Amy Yang is no stranger to winning. She became the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour at the 2006 ANZ Ladies Masters when she was 16 years, 6 months and 8 days old. Yang has tallied other victories since then, but the 22-year-old is still seeking her first career LPGA Tour victory despite having come close to accomplishing the feat numerous times.

Yang tallied a career-best 7 top-10 finishes in 2011, which included two runner-up finishes (Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and the Sunrise Taiwan LPGA Championship). She even led the first three rounds of the 2010 LPGA Tour Championship before losing by a stroke to Maria Hjorth.

Is this perhaps the week that she finally breaks through for an LPGA victory?

"It was a great day," Yang said of her 6-under 66 in Thursday's first round. "My game felt good. Everything was working well. I think especially my putting was worked better than other tournaments. I had a couple shots like went into the trees, and it was hard to play, but I had some good par saves and good birdie putts.

Amy Yang not only can take her lead into the second round on Friday but also some high praises that were sent her way from the best player in the world. Yani Tseng says Yang's consistency makes her tough competition.

"You have to play well to beat her," said Tseng. "You cannot wait until she misses because she's not going to miss. She's always so straight, and she hits the ball with a little draw. When she misses she won't miss like a crazy shot. You need to push yourself harder to beat her."

Lindsey Wright almost didn't have a 2012 season. But after shooting a solid first round 5-under-par 67, the Australian native explained that an extended absence from the game has revitalized her career. She spoke candidly after her opening round about her struggle with anxiety and depression issues.

"People think depression, 'Oh, just get over it if you're in a bad mood or whatever,'" said Wright. It really impacts you physically, and playing on this Tour, coming out and trying to play, grinding it out each week when you're not sleeping and you can't concentrate or focus and the other symptoms with it, it just gets you down. It's a bit of a nightmare."

She said that her mental challenges began to take a toll on her physically after her career-best runner-up finish at the 2009 McDonald's LPGA Championship. Wright figured the game she played was the root of her distress. Wright tried to push through the troubles she was having and continue to play until this past September when she decided to take a break from golf.

"I felt really like I was being smothered by it, by the lifestyle and golf, and wanted to do something else, so I took four months off," said Wright. "Taking the time off, I didn't really think I was going to come back out and play."

Wright, who sought professional help to deal with her depression and anxiety, turned her focus to other things during her time off from golf. She assisted the media staff of the ALPG Tour and helped out at other golf tournaments behind the scenes before getting the itch to return to the links.

"It was really great. I didn't pick up a golf club from the last event I played, which was Taiwan, until the 2nd of January, and I didn't really want to," she added. "So I took the time off and experienced other things, and I think that's made a massive impact for me coming into the year."

The extensive break appears to have worked. Wright won the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women's Open on the Ladies European Tour in mid-February, her first win in eight years. Wright starts off the first major of the year on a good note, heading into the second round one-shot behind the lead.

Though some disappointment came with some of her first round, Tseng understands that no one is winning the tournament on the first day.

"I'm still pretty happy," said Tseng. "You can still see my name on the first page of the leaderboard, so I'm happy that it's only the first day of the tournament. You're not winning a tournament on the first day, and that's why golf is always four rounds; you have to be very patient and play four days of golf."

Many of the LPGA Tour players have talked this week about the pristine condition of the greens at Mission Hills Country Club, but the speed of those greens proved to be slower than they expected in the first round.

"I think that's kind of why mentally I've not been quite as aggressive as I should be because I'm thinking they're going to be so fast," Paula Creamer said of the greens after her first-round, bogey free 69. "I don't think this putting green is the same as the golf course. This is getting pretty fast, and when you get out there, it's almost Velcro."

Tseng needed 31 putts to get through her first round, despite hitting 16 of 18 greens in the round. But she felt that her putting could likely improve on Friday now that she has a better feel for the speed of the greens.

"On our putting green it was kind of very fast, and we thought when the tournament comes it's going to be more fast," Tseng said. "That's why I always practice with a little downhill to try to get the pace of a green, and it was not fast at all today. I left putts like very short, four, five feet short, and I think tomorrow will be fine. I kind of got used to it today."

Charley Hull birdied her first hole in her first professional tournament and first major. The 16-year-old England native didn't want to let the opening-hole excitement get in the way and stayed on track to shoot a 1-under par 71 in the first round, on a day that did not see many low scores.

"I birdied my first ever hole of my first ever major, and that was my first ever pro tournament, so I was pretty chuffed with that," said Hull. "It was really good. The next hole I just forgot about it and just carried on playing golf. It just got me up and excited."

Playing on such a big stage in her first professional tournament, Hull has tried her best to keep things simple and habitual.

"It's hard to take it all in, but just trying to concentrate, not try and do anything different to upset my routine," said Hull.

She claims she didn't get rattled from the presence of any top players on the range, but admits to liking her set up next to some pros whom she has looked up to. Asked whether she got star struck at any point, she denies. "No, not really," said Hull. "My two favorite golfers in the ladies game at the moment has got to be Lexi Thompson and Yani Tseng, and I was hitting balls next to both be them on the range the other day, and that was pretty good."

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