Philadelphia, PA – There's really only one way to look at the LPGA Tour in 2011:
The Year of Yani.
That means Yani Tseng, of course. Tseng began the year as the No. 5 player in the world, nearly a full point off the average of No. 1 Jiyai Shin. Shin's 10.60 point average then now pales in comparison to Tseng's current average of 18.16, nearly double that of her nearest competitor.
To put it in layman's terms: there's Yani Tseng, and there's everyone else.
Having already passed the status of the "Next One," Tseng dominated the LPGA Tour in 2011 like few have before. She has successfully taken the torch from Lorena Ochoa, who retired not long ago, and, at the young age of 22, figures to hold on to the torch for a bit of time.
It's rather early to speculate, but when all is said and done, Tseng could conceivably challenge Kathy Whitworth's record of 88 LPGA Tour victories. It's possible that we've witnessed the coming out party of the greatest female golfer ever.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Yani Tseng
Tseng had seven LPGA Tour victories -- two majors -- and 11 overall wins in 2011, all while no other golfer got more than two titles. If Cristie Kerr, who finished second on the money list, doubled her earnings, she'd still fall short of Tseng's nearly $3 million.
Barely old enough to legally drink in the United States, Tseng is already a third of the way to the all-time major championship record of 15. Even more, she doesn't have the luxury of five yearly major championships, which makes her accomplishments all the more impressive.
Tseng won her second LPGA Championship and second Women's British Open in 2011 and finished second to Stacy Lewis in an exciting Kraft Nabisco Championship. She made 21 cuts in 22 events, finishing in the top five in 12 of them and the top 10 in two more.
She led the tour in scoring average by almost a full stroke and was the only player who averaged under 70 strokes per round. Tseng had 58 more birdies than anyone else, five more rounds under par and led the tour in driving distance.
It was a historic year by any measure, and someday she'll complete the career Grand Slam with a U.S. Women's Open championship. It's quite possible we haven't seen the best of this superstar, and she should be a treat to watch for the next decade or so.
Runners up (but really, there was no competition): Lewis, Suzann Pettersen.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - Kraft Nabisco Championship
It can't all be about Tseng, can it?
The Kraft Nabisco Championship was one of the rare points in 2011 where Tseng was beaten, but her presence all the way to the finish helped make this tournament the most exciting of the year.
In the season's first major, Tseng was looking to successfully defend her title and had a two-stroke lead heading into the final round. But Lewis lurked long enough to take the lead midway through the round, making some incredible shots down the stretch (one of which will be mentioned later) to hold on.
It's difficult to think that Tseng's year could have been more impressive if it weren't for Lewis' clutch play that Sunday. Lewis broke through after three previous top-10 finishes in majors and took the customary leap into Poppie's Pond. The jump wasn't all that successful, as her mother broke her leg, but that will heal, and Lewis rode the victory to quite a season.
She said afterward that beating Tseng reminded her that she could play with -- and beat -- the best in the world. Looking back after the year Tseng had, it may have been the most impressive performance of the year.
Tseng finished with an out-of-character, two-over 74 that day, so Lewis may have caught a break, but one particular putt at the end of the round helped her seal her first career victory...
SHOT OF THE YEAR
...Lewis headed to the 71st hole of the Kraft Nabisco Championship with a two- stroke lead, but was visibly nervous for good reason.
Here was Lewis, who didn't have an official win, battling what we now know to be one of the greatest female golfers ever. Even a two-shot lead, with two to play, has to feel like nothing, knowing what Tseng can do.
Lewis showed her nerves by hitting her tee shot into a greenside bunker, while Tseng had a birdie chance from the edge of the green. Oh no, Lewis must have thought -- the pressure seemed to be winning the battle.
Lewis wedged out of the sand trap to the fringe, about 25 feet away, and Tseng followed with a bad miss on her birdie chance, and the ball rolled just inside where Lewis was.
What followed was the shot of the year.
Lewis seemed to have no shot to save par and was resigned to make bogey, which still would have left her with a likely lead. It would have been okay, but a par would probably seal the tournament. The ball started out to the right, and Lewis could only stand and watch as it rolled perfectly right to left and into the cup.
It was an unbelievable moment, the dagger in Tseng's chances after the now-No. 1 missed her par putt and fell behind by three. After Lewis parred the last hole, history was made.
"I just couldn't believe I made it," Lewis said at the time. "I knew I had a good shot at winning from there, but I was just trying to control my emotions and stay calm."
She had a tough time doing that, but it would be hard for anyone who just accomplished what Lewis did. She went on to finish fourth on the money list, only $1,000 behind Na Yeon Choi for third.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Hee Kyung Seo
Seo won the Rookie of the Year award quite convincingly in 2011, more than doubling the points of runner-up Christel Boeljon. She didn't get a win, but managed to finish an impressive 21st on the money list in her first season with $619,428.
Seo nearly captured a major in her first stint on tour, going to a playoff at the U.S. Women's Open after tying So Yeon Ryu atop the leaderboard on the final day. A bogey on the second playoff hole ultimately doomed her, but it was one of the more impressive and surprising performances of the year.
In all, Seo had two top-five finishes and another top-10, missing only three cuts all year. She'll likely be heard from again in the coming years.
Runners-up: Boeljon, Tiffany Joh, Jenny Shin.
Pettersen - She finished the year as the No. 2 player in the world, posting two titles in 2011 and finishing fifth on the money list. A year after being listed on the 'Bad Year' of this review, Pettersen finally made up for it with her first victory in nearly two years at the Sybase Match Play Championship. She followed with her first stroke-play win in just as long at the Safeway Classic, shedding the choke label she was beginning to receive.
Brittany Lincicome - Other than Tseng, there were three two-time winners in 2011, and Lincicome was one of them. She took the ShopRite LPGA Classic and Canadian Women's Open, adding to her Kraft Nabisco Championship title in 2009. It was the first year Lincicome had won multiple times in a season, and she didn't miss a cut all year.
Karrie Webb - The last of the four multi-winners in 2011, Webb finished only 14th on the money list, but at age 36 she keeps churning out victories. She managed to keep her career win total (38) ahead of her age and will look to become the 12th player to win 40 times on the LPGA Tour in 2012. Webb won consecutive events early in the year before fading, but she also did not miss a cut in 2011.
Lewis - Anyone who beats Tseng on a Sunday at a major has to have a good year regardless of whatever else happens, right? It was Lewis' only win, but she finished fourth on the money list and had five top-fives and 12 top-10s overall.
Jiyai Shin - She began the year at No. 1, but is now No. 7 after going winless in 2011. After posting multiple victories for three straight years, Shin couldn't add to her eight career victories and never cracked the top five in her last 11 events. She had a pair of runner-up finishes, but those came early in the year. Shin cashed only two six-digit paychecks all season.
Michelle Wie - She's still getting by on name value, but when does that end? After going winless for the first time since 2008, Wie needs to start performing before her star fades completely. She posted runner-up finishes at the season-opening LPGA Thailand and the Canadian Women's Open, but was mostly down the leaderboards at most events. Might people have expected too much from her too soon? For the record, Wie and Tseng were born in the same year.