Ji takes lead at LPGA Championship
Karrie Webb is in territory she used to take for granted - in contention for a win at a major on the LPGA Tour. She relishes the feeling like never before.
''I still get really excited for the majors and the importance they have on everyone's career,'' Webb said Saturday after a 4-under 68 moved her within one shot of the lead after the third round of the LPGA Championship. ''I probably want it more than I ever have in my career.''
Webb, who counts seven majors among her 37 career wins, hasn't won one since beating Lorena Ochoa in a one-hole, sudden-death playoff in 2006 for her second Kraft Nabisco Championship title. Here, she's chasing Eun-Hee Ji heading to Sunday's final round.
Webb had four bogeys en route to a 2-over 74 on the opening round. The Australian has come back into contention with two straight rounds under par, though Friday's 71 was punctuated by five birdies and four bogeys. She had five more birdies on Saturday and only one bogey - at the first hole - to match Ji for the lowest round over the first three days.
''I think my patience level has really been quite good - for me,'' said Webb, whose best finish in 10 tournaments this year was a tie for fourth at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in late April. ''On Thursday, I started feeling sorry for myself. The fact that I overcame that early trouble really reinforced that. The stakes will be a lot higher (Sunday), but I've done a good job so far.''
Webb rallied with birdies on three of her final five holes, capping the rush with a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe at No. 17.
''I want to have a chance to win,'' Webb said. ''It feels great to have a chance tomorrow.''
Ji, coming off her first top-10 in more than two years, was solid again off the tee on the unforgiving Locust Hill Country Club course, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and reaching 11 of 14 greens in regulation. That gave her an impressive total of 39 GIRs in 54 holes.
''I always trying hard,'' said Ji, who captured the 2009 U.S. Women's Open with a birdie putt on the final hole. ''My confidence is going lower last year. I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm trying to be hopeful and just playing my game.''
Giulia Sergas, who shared the first-round lead but had a 76 on Friday in the wind-swept second round, moved back near the top with four birdies on the front nine and also finished with a 69. Sergas was tied at 2 under with Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen and Inbee Park. Lewis, a two-time winner in her last three events, had a 70, Pettersen shot a 71, and Park had a 72.
Paula Creamer was at or near the top most of the day, but faltered at the end and finished with a 73. She was in a seven-way tie at 1 under.
Defending champion Yani Tseng had her best round of the three days, finishing with at 74 after a 76 and a 75.
There were 24 players within four shots of the lead at the start of play. When the day ended, there were 13, including 2010 champion Cristie Kerr, within four shots of the top heading to the final round.
Jennifer Johnson was one of them after a 71. She hit her first six fairways and sank a pair of birdies on the front nine, eagled the par-5 17th hole to reach 3 under, then gave it back with a double bogey at the closing hole.
Still, Johnson was among five Americans - Sydnee Michaels was the other - in the hunt for the second major of the year.
Over the first two days, only 28 players broke par and only six scored below 70. Webb added her name to the latter list as the course played easier than it had the first two days.
The start of play on Saturday was delayed 2 1/2 hours by rain, adding tension to the moment, but the predicted storms held off. That allowed the players, who went in threesomes off both the first and 10th tees, to finish without another delay.
Ji, who won here at the Wegmans LPGA in 2008, was in a six-way tie two shots off the lead to start the day. She made four birdies and a bogey on the front nine and made the turn tied for the lead at 3 under. She took sole possession of the top spot with a birdie at the par-5 11th hole.
Creamer hit 10 of 14 fairways and reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation, but aside from a strong birdie to start the round, her putter deserted her all too often. She tied Ji at 4 under with a birdie at No. 12, but bogeyed the next hole and two of her final three to fall back.
Creamer's long birdie putt attempt at the par-5 eighth hole broke nicely toward the cup but didn't have enough behind it, leaving her shaking her head in frustration at a missed opportunity. She also missed another short birdie at No. 10 despite perfect pace on the ball as it came to a stop an inch or two to the left of the cup and slid another just past the hole at the par-5 11th hole.
''I've been working so hard with my golf swing, when things go wrong I kind of overanalyze,'' Creamer said. ''I made a great birdie putt on 12, and from there I didn't hit any good putts. I tried to stay positive, but. I was bummed. It's pretty disappointing. I kind of got in my way with my putter.''
Lewis missed a short birdie putt at No. 10 and did so again at the 12th hole, her 5-footer curling left of the hole as she, too, shook her head in dismay. A bogey at 13 dropped her back to 1 under, but a birdie at 17 put her in a position she relishes.
''It's a lot easier coming from behind,'' said Lewis, the top-ranked American. ''It's so hard to keep your focus. I almost like being at the back and kind of coming up and surprising someone.''
Se Ri Pak, still not fully recovered from a left shoulder injury suffered in April, had been the picture of consistency the first two rounds, shooting 70 and 71, and began the day with a one-shot lead.
The magic was gone, though, on this day, and it was evident after her first swing.
Pak drove the right rough at the opening hole and was unable to get up and down, making bogey to fall out of the lead. She followed that by making three more bogeys before the turn and added another at No. 10 to fall to 2 over, six shots behind Ji. Pak finished with a 76 and was five shots back.
Just how difficult were the conditions at Locust Hill over the first two rounds? For Tseng, they were insurmountable.
In winning the LPGA Championship by 10 shots a year ago, Tseng set a tournament record for most birdies with 26 and came back to defend her title leading the tour in birdie average (4.64). She managed only five over the first 42 holes to go with a whopping 14 bogeys as the narrow course proved the toughest of challenges with its extra-thick rough and swirling winds.
Divots: Jodi Ewart aced the 15th hole Saturday. It's the fifth time a hole-in-one has been made at the par 3 - Suzann Pettersen was the last to do it in 2004 - and the 15th ace in LPGA tournaments held at Locust Hill.