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LPGA: Lewis' No. 1 ranking on line at season's first major

The SportsXchange

Stacy Lewis enters a major championship as the No. 1 player in the world for the first time this week. It just so happens to be at the site of her first major title - the Kraft Nabisco Championship at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where she won in 2010.

Lewis will tee off at 8:22 a.m. on Thursday in a group with South Korea's I.K. Kim, who finished second in the first major of the season last year when she lost a one-hole playoff to Sun Young Yoo. Lewis has a pair of victories already this season, but her grip on the top spot in the world is tenuous with former No. 1 Yani Tseng less than a point behind and Na Yeon Choi and Inbee Park not far behind.

Tseng and Choi have an opportunity to unseat Lewis this week - Tseng with a victory and Choi if she wins and Lewis finishes fourth or lower.

"Well, I think the first question I was asked when I became No. 1 is, 'How long are you going to stay there?' I can't even think about that," said Lewis. "There are so many things that I can't control. I can't control how Yani plays, how Inbee Park plays. If they go out and play better than me, then I lose the No. 1 ranking. If I go out there and take care of myself, I'll be at that No. 1 ranking."

Yoo begins her title defense having missed two cuts in the United States already this season. Meanwhile, Kim said she has learned from the experience of watching her putt on the playoff hole agonizingly lip out.

"I learned a lot," said Kim. "I think last year was big turning point of my life of learning and what's really important. It just gave me different view of it.

"Well, so, look back, it was tough to handle at first, but I think it's important not only to the viewers and the people, but to let other people, younger generation, to know that it's not always going to be glorious and like victory."

Paula Creamer enters the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and said the depth of the tour and the style of the Mission Hills Country Club gives a slew of players an opportunity to be in contention come Sunday.

"It's a tournament where you can be right out in the lead the first couple days, and when the weekend hits you never see the leader," said Creamer.

"It's a golf course that really doesn't fit one person's game. You can be long, and some of the holes it doesn't really matter. I think it's more about your short irons. You're obviously making putts, things like that, but it's harder to say five players that are going to be in contention just because of the way the golf course is."

The opening two rounds features several interesting pairings. Tseng will play with Jiyai Shin, who won the season-opening event in Australia, while Creamer is paired with fellow American Brittany Lang. Choi will play with Norway's Suzann Pettersen, and Park will be with rising American Jessica Korda.

Another interesting pairing features Michelle Wie, who has struggled mightily thus far this season, with Lydia Ko, an up-and-coming amateur star from New Zealand who was in contention throughout the Australian Open.

Three-time Kraft Nabisco champion Annika Sorenstam agreed to host this week's pro-am, as LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has made a point of emphasizing the importance the tournament's tradition plays for the LPGA. And there is no image that resonates more on the tour than the tradition of the Kraft Nabisco champion jumping into Poppie's Pong along with her caddie.

"I think every player loves the major championships," said Sorenstam. "There's something special about it, especially an event like this that's been going on for over 40 years. There is so much tradition. We are in the same venue, which makes it even more special. It's kind of like the Masters. We all come here and remember shots that the champions have hit. We remember the famous leaps into Poppie's Pond.

"It's the history I think that means a lot. You look at the trophy, at the paths on the 18th and you see all the names of the players that we all look up to and that we all try to copy one way or another. I think it's very, very special."

Players admit the potential leap into Poppie's Pond creep's into their mind - as much for style as what it means to win the first major of the season.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but obviously it's very easy to think about it," said Creamer. "You talk about it every day. I don't think I would be very graceful. I think I would go for a cannonball. That would be a great moment. Hopefully that will come one day."
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