Defending champ Yani Tseng barely makes the cut

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After winning three times early in the year, Yani Tseng has been struggling. Her biggest opponent seems to be herself.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Even great players sometimes miss cuts in major championships. To be great means they learn something valuable when they do, rather than just brood.

It looked for a while Friday at the LPGA Championship as though Taiwan's Yani Tseng was about to get that lesson. After her 3-over 75 for a two-round total of 7-over 151, she smiled ruefully and said she might have to spend the weekend practicing at nearby Oak Hill, another famed Rochester course.

But Saturday and Sunday she will be right here at Locust Hill Country Club. She will be 10 shots off the lead of Se Ri Pak, who tops the field at 3-under 151. But at least Tseng is still playing.

As if you ever needed more evidence that golf is the most confounding game on the planet, consider that on this same tract last year, Tseng finished at 19 under and won this major title.

Yes, the rough is thicker this year, and several of the golfers say the fairways are a bit tighter, with pre-tournament rain making them mushier. Clearly, Locust Hill is playing more difficult than the past two years, and it seems impossible we'll see a winning score Sunday anywhere close to 19 under.

Still, Tseng's issue really isn't about this course. And it's probably not about the standard vagaries of golf that can plague anyone from hacker to Hall of Famer. This seems to be more her gradual realization that she's carrying a weight that is part of the package of success.

"It was a really tough day out there," said Tseng, the top-ranked women's player in the world. "I played so good over the front nine, but didn't make any putts. I didn't play well on the back nine, but I hung in there and didn't give up. It was very disappointing, but hopefully I'll learn something from these two days."

She might do that just by looking at video of herself playing here Thursday and Friday. She might have thought she hung tough, but her body language suggested something else: discouragement.

"Team Yani" -- the group of advisers and coaches who consult with Tseng -- noticed.

"After today, I saw something I want to tell her: 'You need to enjoy your game,' " said Naya Hsu, who manages Tseng's career and regularly travels with her. "These last two weeks, I feel she is too focused on winning the tournament and not just 'playing golf.' "

We must remember, of course, that Tseng is just 23 years old and has five major titles at a younger age than any male or female player ever. In 2012, Tseng has won three LPGA titles, bringing her total to 15.

The most recent was the Kia Classic in March. At the subsequent Kraft Nabisco Championship -- an event she won in 2010 -- Tseng was tied for the lead going into the final round but shot a 73 and finished third.

Still, she wasn't too upset about that, not like she had been at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco when a final day 74 landed her in second place. Tseng had taken that hard but then bounced back for a terrific 2011 campaign that included seven victories.

So this year, after the Kraft title that slipped away again, she said she "kept on smiling." But Tseng acknowledged that was harder to do Friday.

"When you're struggling, it's not so easy to smile," she said. "But I did it. There were a couple of holes where I felt more down. Overall I'm OK. But [my score] is too far off; it should be much better. I didn't play badly, but I didn't score good."

Tseng's best finish since the Kraft Nabisco was a tie for ninth at the Sybase Match Play Championship on May 20. And while Friday she barely missed becoming the first defending champ at this major to miss the cut since Karrie Webb in 2002, she is still playing.

"Our goal is to help her not think too much about the score or how many championships she wants to win," Hsu said. "Just think about doing your best. To say that is very easy. But it's very hard to not think too much.

"The pressure and everything now with the media -- everybody wants to interview Yani, and sponsors want her at events -- I think she's still doing a good job with that," Hsu said. "But the biggest competition right now is with herself. She's always thinking about doing things better for her fans and for her results."

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