RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson know exactly what’s at stake Sunday at Mission Hills – for themselves and the attention-starved LPGA Tour.
”I think it’s great for the tour and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Wie said Saturday after tying Thompson for the third-round lead in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
”I think Lexi is a really entertaining golfer. I like to think I’m somewhat entertaining as well. So, I think the both of us paired together is great.”
They’re each trying to win their first major title, a victory that would be a big boost to the tour that felt slighted and upstaged this week when Golf Digest put model Paulina Gretzky on its cover after long ignoring the top female players.
”I know people will be really excited about tomorrow’s pairing, but I’m not really going to worry about it,” Thompson said. ”I’m just going to go out and have fun.”
The 24-year-old Wie shot a bogey-free 4-under 68 to match the 19-year-old Thompson at 10-under 206.
The popular Americans were teammates last year in the Solheim Cup.
”I really like Lexi,” Wie said. ”I think she’s a really good girl.”
The two 6-footers are power players, though Wie has sacrificed some distance for control and has been hitting low-flying 3-wood stingers off a lot of tees.
”That’s kind of always been in my bag,” Wie said. ”Kind of reintroduced it back into my game the last couple of months. It’s just something that I’ve always felt comfortable doing and I’ve played well on this golf course.”
Thompson, already a three-time winner on the tour, settled for a 69 after missing a 3-foot par putt on the par-5 18th. She also missed two short birdie putts on the front nine.
”I’m getting looks at birdies and just waiting for a few more to drop,” Thompson said.
Charley Hull, the Englishwoman who turned 18 last month, was two strokes back along with five-time major champion Se Ri Pak. Hull birdied the 18th for a 66, the best round of the day. Pak shot 71.
Both leaders said they were nervous.
”I probably won’t sleep that well,” Wie said. ”It’s just the chance. You want something so badly. I dreamed about this all my life, so I’m just trying to not think about it so much. I’m just trying to think it’s a normal Sunday. … But I think that’s a good thing. It’s a sign that I’m really excited and I really want this.”
”But it’s a good nervous,” Thompson said. ”This is what I’ve been waiting for and what I’ve worked my whole life for.”
Wie is making her 12th start in the tournament. She was ninth in 2003 at age 13, fourth the following year and tied for third at 16 in 2006. She also was sixth in 2011.
”I just go out there and I think I just really know what I need to do,” Wie said. ”I think that came with experience of playing so many rounds in my life.”
Wie has two victories, winning the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the 2010 Canadian Women’s Open. She has been in the top 16 in all five of her starts this year, finishing a season-best fourth in Thailand. On Saturday, she birdied four of the first 11 holes and parred the last seven, leaving an 8-foot birdie putt short on 18.
”I’m really happy that with my placement,” Wie said.
Thompson struggled with her putting after a great day on the greens Friday in a bogey-free 64. She missed a 2 1/2-foot try on No. 4 and a 4-footer on No. 7.
”I would say I had a few mis-reads,” Thompson said.
On 18, she drove close to the face of a right-side bunker and blasted out, leaving her 145 yards on the water-guarded hole that she would normally reach in two. Her approach went long and right, and her 80-foot birdie putt broke about 15 feet right to left, setting up the short par miss that cost her the outright lead and ended her bogey-free streak at 36 holes.
”Not the ending I wanted,” Thompson said.
Hull birdied six of the last holes. She played in the Solheim Cup last year and won her first pro title last month in Morocco in a Ladies European Tour event.
”I hit it quite well,” Hull said. ”My irons were pretty good and I hit some good drives. When I got myself in trouble, I was able to get out of it. I’m pretty happy.”
Hull turned 18 on March 20 and could become the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history. Morgan Pressel set the record at Mission Hills in 2007, winning at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days.
”It would be the best feeling ever,” Hull said.
Pak birdied the par-4 16th after bogeying three of the first six holes on the back nine. The 36-year-old South Korean player won the last of her five major titles in 2006 and the last of her 25 LPGA Tour victories in 2010.
”There’s nothing to complain about it,” Pak said. ”Of course, I mis-hit it there a little bit, but that will happen on this golf course.”