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Yani Tseng cruises into Kraft Nabisco Championship lead

Yani Tseng finished her second round Friday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship with a series of shots that made golf seem like an easy game.

Tseng’s drive off the tee was a three-wood straight down the middle of the fairway on the 539-yard par-five hole. Her final shot was a birdie putt of about 15 feet.

And that was followed by a series of fist-pumps, the kind athletes make when they know they’ve done well.

Tseng, a 23-year-old from Taiwan who has won six of the last 12 tournaments she has entered, took a two-shot lead after two rounds of the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season Friday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

That final birdie gave Tseng a second consecutive round of four-under-par 68 and a two-day total of eight-under 136.

In second is South Korea’s Haeji Kang, who matched Tseng’s 68. Another South Korean, Sun Young Yoo, and Australian Lindsey Wright, who counted an eagle in her round of 71, are tied for third, two shots behind Tseng.

Among those who missed the cut, which came at four over, was Michelle Wie, who had finished tied for ninth in her first appearance here as a 13-year-old in 2003, and Jenny Shin, who could at least celebrate a hole in one on the 17th hole that earned her a new car.

Tseng, who had been critical of her first-day play, said she was much more pleased with her Friday golf.

“I felt more energy coming out today,” Tseng said. “My focus was so much better. I took advantage of every chance.”

So filled with energy was Tseng that she said was going to play a little basketball after her round.

Tseng said she began playing basketball when she was about 8 years old. “I loved it,” she said, “because my house in Taiwan was very close to the park and there was a basketball court.” She didn’t pursue the sport with more vigor, because, she said, being only 5-feet-6 made her “too short.”

Even if Tseng, who is aiming for her third win a row and has led after nine of her last 10 rounds, were to be Sunday’s champion and earn her sixth major title, she said she would still not be as popular back in Taiwan as another basketball player.

Asked who has more fame right now, her or New York Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin, Tseng said, “I would say him.”

Se Ri Pak, 31, who has won five majors herself (though never this one) and is three shots behind Tseng and tied for fifth, said chasing Tseng right now isn’t easy for anybody.

“She has a lot of confidence in her game,” Pak said. “And when you have a lot of confidence you can do everything well at the same time.”

Wright, who was tied with Tseng on Friday before making a double bogey on the 15th hole, said surpassing the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer won’t be easy.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” Wright said. “She’s an amazing golfer. But as history has shown us in majors, unless she’s got a seven- or eight-shot lead coming down to the last nine holes, it’s anyone’s game. If anything, there is more pressure on her because it is Yani. We all expect her to win.”

diane.pucin@latimes.com

mepucin/twitter.com


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