Jee Young Lee leads as Ochoa stumbles
Lorena Ochoa chopped into the mangled grass and was stunned to see her ball hop only a few inches, sending her to a double bogey as her hopes for a third straight major championship slipped away from her.
By the time she recovered, she found some perspective in the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, along with a familiar name.
Ochoa was only two shots out the lead, trailing two players who have never seriously contended in a major.
And she was tied with Annika Sorenstam, out to make history of her own in her final season on the LPGA Tour.
“I’m just glad I have a chance tomorrow,” Ochoa said.
Stifling heat that turned Bulle Rock into an oven cooked up quite a treat on Saturday.
Jee Young Lee played her final four holes in 4-under par and surged into the lead with a 7-under 65, putting her one shot ahead of Maria Hjorth, who also had a 65. They are among the longest hitters in women’s golf.
Joining them in the final group will be Sorenstam, trying to join the great Mickey Wright as a four-time winner of this major. Sorenstam has gone 30 holes without a bogey, and she rarely found trouble on her way to a 68 that put her two shots behind.
“The key in majors is not how it’s done; you’ve got to get it done,” Sorenstam said. “That’s what I’ve got to do tomorrow.”
The only disappointment was that Ochoa and Sorenstam, Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, won’t get a chance to play together. LPGA officials, fearful of more fog that delayed the start of the third round, opted for threesomes on Sunday.
Sorenstam will play with Lee, whose 25-foot birdie on the last hole gave her the lead at 12-under 204, and Hjorth, a fellow Swede.
Ochoa birdied two of her last three holes to salvage an even-par 72, tied for third with Sorenstam.
“I would have probably liked to have played with Annika,” Ochoa said. “I think it would have been fun for us and for all of you. But it’s OK. It’s better when they know what I have done. That will be important, to get a good start and to put my name up there. And they can stay with the pressure in the last group.”
Ten players were within five shots of Lee, who won an LPGA Tour event in her native South Korea three years ago when she was 19.
“I’ve been waiting to win the tournament ever since I came to the United States,” she said through a translator. “And to win the major tournament here would be really exciting for me. And I’m really looking forward to winning this tournament.”
Hjorth ran off four birdies at the turn, took the outright lead on No. 12 and saved par after a tee shot on the 18th hole hit a cart path and bounded into the mounds of thick rough.
“It’s still a golf ball you’re going to hit. It’s still a golf course you’re going to play,” Hjorth said. “As long as I don’t occupy my mind with thinking, ‘Oh, this is the last group in a major,’ hopefully I can handle it well. And I’m looking forward to it.”
The toughest part of Saturday was handling the heat.
Temperatures climbed past 100, and most players carried umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. It felt even hotter with no breeze, with the tops of 60-foot oak trees not moving an inch.
Add to that the pressure of a final round at a major, especially with Ochoa and Sorenstam right in the mix.
“Everybody is looking forward to tomorrow and everybody wants it badly,” Sorenstam said. “The one that wins is the one that stays cool, stays patient and makes less mistakes. So that’s going to be my plan.”
Ochoa had gone 30 holes without a bogey at Bulle Rock until a three-putt on the opening hole.
The big blow came at the par-3 seventh. She pulled her tee shot left of the green into a mangled lie. She tried a flop shot over the bunker, but it was more like a foul tip. The ball squirted a few inches, Ochoa made double bogey and suddenly was three shots behind.
A half-dozen players had at least a share of the lead at one point, with Sorenstam generating as much excitement as the gallery could muster. With temperatures climbing past 100, it felt like a sauna with no help from wind. Even the tops of 60-foot oak trees didn’t move.
But it was loud enough, especially as Ochoa was walking up the fifth fairway and heard a cheer through the trees on the sixth green, where Sorenstam had stuck another close for birdie.
That gave her a share of the lead, but only briefly, for Hjorth soon pulled ahead with an 8-iron to 8 feet for birdie at the 12th.
Sorenstam slowed with pars. Brittany Lang, tied for the lead at 10 under, fell back on the 13th when she went from one nasty lie in the rough to another and took double bogey.
Lang finished with a 71 and was in the group at 8-under 208 that included Laura Diaz (69) and Yani Tseng of Taiwan (65). Also in that group was Lindsey Wright, the first play to reach 11 under with a birdie at No. 8, who faulted on the back and shot 73.
The third round was played in threesomes because of fog so thick it delayed the start by three hours. Most players probably wished the fog had stayed, for the blistering sunshine that broke through the haze led nearly everyone to carry an umbrella to shield the rays.
“Just as long as you try to drink and not think about it too much, it worked for me,” Hjorth said.
More high temperatures are expected for the final round, and Sorenstam already was thinking ahead.
“I’m not going to wear a brown top tomorrow,” she said.