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Stacy Lewis is No. 1 at LPGA's first major

American has surpassed Yani Tseng going into the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Rancho Mirage.

April 03, 2013|By Diane Pucin
  • Stacy Lewis celebrates after making a birdie putt during the second round of the LPGA Founders Cup last month.
Stacy Lewis celebrates after making a birdie putt during the second round… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

The fact that an American golfer is ranked No. 1 in the world is not a surprise. The fact that a second golfer is ranked No. 1 — a woman — is very much a surprise.

Of course, everyone knows Tiger Woods; the other is Stacy Lewis, and she has been talking a little Twitter trash with her top-ranked counterpart. "I tweeted Tiger, 'Congrats. Welcome back to No. 1.'"

She was being funny.

"Apparently in [140] characters, people couldn't find the humor in that," Lewis said.

Lewis' ascension to No. 1 caught a lot of people by surprise. The LPGA Tour has been dominated by Yani Tseng of Taiwan, who held the top spot for 109 weeks.

It seemed the only challengers people were taking seriously were from South Korea, including Sun Young Yoo, the defending champion at this week's Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year. The tournament starts Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

Lewis, a graduate of the University of Arkansas who won this tournament two years ago, on March 18 officially became No. 1 after winning the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix.

It was Lewis' second win of the season, but she said the rise to No. 1 felt as if it had come suddenly.

"Wham," Lewis, 28, said. "All of a sudden. It hit me. The No. 1 ranking really wasn't in my head until my dad gave me a hug and said, 'You're No. 1 in the world.' I'm excited about it."

Lewis' father, Dale, sat in the back of a media tent Wednesday working quietly on a computer. When tournament volunteers stopped and congratulated him, he smiled shyly or said, "It's not me, it's my daughter."

Contrast Lewis' engaging personality with the player who probably will draw the biggest gallery — Michelle Wie. Now 23, Wie had a world of expectations placed on her when she became the youngest person to make an LPGA cut 10 years ago at this tournament. She thought she could conquer the world and even played in a dozen men's tournaments, all with little success.

Since then she has won only two tournaments on the LPGA Tour. This season she has missed the cut in four of five tournaments and has dropped to 86th in the Rolex Rankings.

Wie, the 16th-ranked American player, played in Tuesday's pro-am but declined all interview requests even after her major sponsor, Kia, asked her to talk.

The symbol of past promise will be paired Thursday and Friday, not coincidentally, with the symbol of the future — 15-year-old New Zealand sensation Lydia Ko. In August, Ko became the youngest winner of an LPGA tournament, at the Canadian Women's Open.

Ko is still an amateur and travels with her mother. She turned down an early practice time Wednesday because she didn't want a 5 a.m. wake-up call.

She seems largely unfazed by her glamour pairing in the first two rounds.

"I experienced playing with [Wie] and Yani Tseng at the Australian Open," Ko said. "I'll still be a little nervous. Michelle is my idol."

But there are more story lines for this weekend's tournament besides the new No. 1 and the golfers of expectations past and future. And some of those also have a U.S. flavor to them, which may be good for attracting larger galleries.

There is Paula Creamer, who is second behind Lewis in number of rounds under par. Or Brittany Lincicome, Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda, who sit second through fourth (behind Lewis) for number of eagles.

Lizette Salas from Azusa and USC, in her second year professionally, is third in top-10 finishes and Daniela Iacobelli is the longest driver on the tour.

But despite the changes to the top of the rankings, the one thing that probably won't change this week is how the tournament will end. The winner will jump into the pond surrounding the 18th green.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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