Tseng hoping to return to form at Australian Open

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CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Yani Tseng felt the pressure of being the No. 1 player last season, plus trying to defend 11 tournament titles around the world.

After a six-week break and a weekend off at home to celebrate the Chinese New Year with her family, Tseng is starting at the Women’s Australian Open, the first event on the LPGA Tour schedule.

“I was in Taiwan for Chinese New Year last week for a couple of days and I got some red envelopes for my family,” she said of the tradition at Chinese New Year. “My Mum told me last year was a bad year for Dragon, and I was Dragon. So my Mum say, `It’s OK, your bad year is over. Your good year is coming this year, the Snake.’

“I go, `OK that’s good.’ So I’m very excited for this year.”

In her first competitive round of the year on Thursday, she’ll be grouped with Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old amateur who won the New Zealand Open last week to become the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour.

Also in the group will be American Michelle Wie, who is making her Australian debut and looks to make a strong start after missing the cut in 10 of the 23 LPGA tournaments last year.

Tseng has held the No. 1 ranking for two years, so she knows she’ll have to get down to business quickly. In the other high-profile first-round group at the par-73 Royal Canberra Golf Club, four-time Women’s Australian Open champion Karrie Webb will be playing alongside LPGA Player of the Year Stacy Lewis of the United States and defending champion Jessica Korda.

Korda won a six-way playoff at Royal Melbourne last year with a 25-foot birdie putt at the second extra hole to capture her first LPGA Tour title. She warmed up for her title defense with a fifth-place finish this month at the Australian Women’s Masters, which Webb won for the eighth time.

Tseng finished in a share of eighth at the Australia Open last year, after winning the title in the two previous seasons.

Tseng then won in Thailand on a run that contained three titles and eight top 10 finishes until things started going wrong in May. She didn’t win another title and had only three more Top 10 finishes on the LPGA Tour _ all on the Asian swing late in the season.

The struggles were a shock for her and her fans, particularly after a stellar 2011 when she won seven LPGA Tour titles and four others worldwide.

“I know it’s been a tough year for me but when I look back, I have three wins, I have 12 top 10s, so that’s still pretty good,” she said Wednesday. “Because all the people are putting high expectation on me, even myself. I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself.”

Australian veteran Webb has experienced the highs and the lows in her long career and thinks Tseng’s year needs to be put in perspective.

“Yeah, that was a terrible year she had last year, three wins, $1.5 million. I would have hated to have a year like that,” Webb said, joking at the pre-tournament news conference. “She missed a couple of cuts, yes. She didn’t have a great year, but she had a good year. I just hope that she doesn’t put that pressure on herself to have one of those 11-win years. Those come along not very often.

Lewis had her best year on record, winning four titles and notching 16 Top 10 finishes to win the Player of the Year Award. Attaining the No. 1 ranking is a career goal.

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