Yani Tseng needs to bounce back at British Open
As 2012 began there was no doubting the most dominant golfer in the world. Yani Tseng had the kind of grip on the LPGA Tour that Tiger Woods used to enjoy in the men's game.
She was just 22 years old and the Taiwanese player could already boast five major titles. Tseng was the youngest player, male or female, to have won so many of the biggest tournaments in the sport.
Two of them came in 2011 as she successfully defended her Ricoh Women's British Open title and wrapped up back to back LPGA Player of the Year awards with four tournaments to spare.
There was no stopping the diminutive Tseng who began this year in a similar vein with three more Tour victories before March was over.
Tseng has described her recent form this season as "consistently bad". Photo: Getty
Yet the now 23-year-old arrives at Hoylake this week bidding for a hat-trick of British Open titles with confidence low and questions hanging over her ability to bounce back from an inexplicable slump in form.
"I've never been this consistently bad so it's a little weird for me," Tseng recently admitted.
Until this year she had missed only three cuts in her entire career but this summer suffered three in four events around the US Open where she finished in a lowly tie for 50th place.
"I started second-guessing myself and was always questioning myself," she said of the mental doubts that have crept into her game. "I have really learned a lot."
Tseng was convinced the slump was at an end when she finished 11th in the LPGA event at Pumpkin Ridge in mid-August.
"Yani is back, the new Yani is coming out now," she stated ahead of a promising start to the Canadian Open where she fired an excellent first round 66. Then Tseng slumped again, closing with rounds of 75, 74 and 74 to slip into a share of 35th place.
So we have yet to see the "new Yani" and it is now a while since we have seen the Yani of old.
Nevertheless, Tseng heads to Hoylake as the world number one and can seek consolation from the way Rory McIllroy has so spectacularly bounced back from what we now know was a mere blip earlier in the men's season.
Perhaps the shifting of the British Open (to avoid clashing with the Olympics) to September has provided better timing and an ideal stage to salvage her year.
Tseng is certainly impatient to return to the winner's circle and reassert her superiority on the women's tour. A sign of her anxiety comes with the acknowledgement of the significance of her next win.
"I think it would be my best trophy ever," said the winner of 26 titles worldwide. "I have the picture in my mind of how emotional I will feel if I win again."
At Carnoustie last year she showed a penchant for links golf and is planning a Woods-like assault on Hoylake after noting the way he triumphed in the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool.
"Tiger always hit iron from the tees and I want to stick with the same strategy as him," Tseng said.
"It's easy to have a good season but if you want to have a great season you have got to win a major tournament."
This week's Championship represents her last chance in 2012. She will face stern opposition from all over the world.
With such strength in Asia along with plenty from the traditional heartlands of golf, the women's game draws from an extraordinary international spread.
Naturally hopes are high for home success as well. Catriona Matthew, a recent winner of the Irish Open, was the last player before Tseng to win the British.
The Scot will, no doubt, draw inspiration from compatriot Andy Murray's triumph in New York as she bids to land her second major title.
England's Melissa Reid will carry huge emotional support as she seeks her first. The Derbyshire player lost her mother in a tragic car accident earlier in the season.
It has been a magnificent year for Scotland's Carly Booth; the 20 year old has won twice on the Ladies European Tour and will attract a strong following if she can put her name on the leaderboard.
Certainly home success would be in keeping with this astonishing year for British sport, but it would also be in keeping with a 2012 that has already witnessed a thrilling GB and Ireland victory in the Curtis Cup.