Choi leading going into final day
Na Yeon Choi -8, Rolex Rankings No. 5
Five-time LPGA Tour winner Na Yeon Choi will have an opportunity to capture the biggest victory of her career, as she carries a six-stroke lead into Sunday's final round of the 67th U.S. Women's Open. Choi, who is ranked fifth in the Rolex Rankings, put on a masterful display on the Championship Course at Blackwolf Run Saturday by firing a 7-under 65. Choi's round tied Karrie Webb (1997) and Judy Clark (1985) for the lowest 3rd round score in U.S. Women's Open history and only four lower rounds have ever been recorded in the history of the championship.
Choi's impressive 65 came on a day where scoring proved to be difficult for the majority of the field. The winds picked up in Kohler, Wis. and only five players managed to shoot under par in the third round. At the end of Saturday's play, only five players remained under par through 54 holes.
While Choi has five wins already on her resume, she is still seeking her first win in a major championship.
"I'm pretty sure I'll be nervous tomorrow, but I think I won't miss that feeling," Choi said. "I have confidence and this is a good opportunity to be winning the U.S. Open. So I just hope to get a good warmup tomorrow morning and just go out there with my caddie and have fun."
Choi's last victory on the LPGA Tour came at the 2011 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia last October when she defeated Yani Tseng by one stroke.
Ask any player on the LPGA Tour to mention a player who consistency puts together solid rounds and Na Yeon Choi would surely be a name that's frequently mentioned. Choi, who won the 2010 Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, has tallied double-digit top-10 finishes in each of the last three seasons on the LPGA Tour.
On Saturday, she put that consistency on display with an unbelievable performance on the Blackwolf Run Championship Course. Choi hit 12 fairways and 13 greens while needing just 26 putts en route to shooting 65.
"I had a really good warmup this morning," Choi said. "When I done with my warmup, I talked to my manager, and said today will be very difficult day. But my manager said you can do it. She encouraging me.
"And then I had birdie on 1st hole and birdie on 2nd hole. Then I got some good vibes from there, good confidence from there. It was really fun out there. I had fun out there. And then -- actually, I couldn't believe how I got eight birdies today. But I did. And I'm very happy, and I'm very satisfied and I'm very excited."
Na Yeon Choi still vividly remembers the day that Se Ri Pak captured the 1998 U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run. Choi was 10 years old at the time of the victory and hadn't picked up the game of golf yet. But following that historic win by Pak, Choi's life changed and so did the lives of many other South Koreans.
"I think that was like big for all the Korean people," Choi said. "Even some people who didn't play golf. I think we had bad economy in Korea that moment, but she won on the LPGA Tour and that was amazing all the Korean people. So I think after she won in June or July, even until like December, I watched it on the TV what she playing on U.S. Open. I kept turning on, turning on. So I remember everything that feeling, and I really want to continue that feeling to the Korean people."
Choi recalled the first time that she met Pak. It came back in 2004 when she was 16 years old and was playing in her first KLPGA event as an amateur. Choi went on to win that event and turned professional right after the victory. So she acknowledges that having her first major come at Blackwolf Run would be very special.
"After Se Ri won on the LPGA tour, I think all the Korean people or even a lot of players has bigger dream than before," Choi said. "And even me, just dream was professional golfer on KLPGA tour. Just Korean player. But after she won and even Grace Park or Mi Hyun Kim, when they did that LPGA tour, I changed my goal. I have to go to the LPGA tour and I want to win on the LPGA tour. So they encouraged all the Korean players and we have bigger dream because of them."
Amy Yang has come close many times to capturing her first victory on the LPGA Tour but that win has proved so far to be elusive. Yang posted seven top-10 finishes in 2011 and now she could have another chance at a win.
Yang shot a 3-under 69 to move into second place at 2-under-par heading into Sunday's final round. Yang, who will turn 23 later this month, has often been compared to her hero, Se Ri Pak, both in terms of looks and also the quality of her golf game. Now the young South Korean might have the opportunity to capture her first victory at the place where Pak captured arguably the most famous victory of her career.
As for Yang's approach heading into Sunday, she said that her goal is not to change anything about how she plays.
"I'm just going to keep being patient tomorrow, try to do my best," Yang said.
Lexi Thompson already has the distinction as the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history. But the 17-year-old will have a chance on Sunday to become the youngest golfer ever - male or female -- to win a major championship. She would be 10 days younger than Young Tom Morris was when he won the British Open in 1868.
Thompson kept herself in the championship hunt by shooting an even-par 72 in Saturday's third round. She will enter Sunday seven shots behind leader Na Yeon Choi at 1-under-par but like many other players, Thompson said she can't focus too much on that large deficit.
"I'm not going to just try to go after her," Thompson said. "I'm going to play my own game and the golf course. That's all I can do is focus on my game and nobody else's."
One player who was able to make a solid jump up the leaderboard on Saturday was 2010 U.S. Women's Open champion Paula Creamer, who fired a 1-under 71 to move from a T29 into a T7 at 1-over-par.
Creamer certainly will have her work cut out for her if she's to capture a second U.S. Open title since she's nine shots behind leader Na Yeon Choi. But Creamer was pleased with the move that she was able to make during difficult playing conditions on Saturday.
"Definitely I wanted to shoot under par before I went out there and I would have taken it in a heartbeat," Creamer said of her round of 71. "It's playing tough. But you can make your birdies. There's some holes where you can put a close wedge. It's just different wind we have had, and the pin placements, the USGA did a very good job tucking them."
So what does Creamer expect for the course setup on Sunday?
"I don't know where they can even put some of these pins tomorrow with what they did today," Creamer said. "But you know, you know that's going to happen. The USGA doesn't like it when how many people, 10, 11 people were under par, whatever it was. They made it hard today. It helped with the wind, made it even tougher. It also helps where they put some of these tee boxes for some of these pins. I never thought 6 would be a back tee box, but it is. I made a par and I felt like I made a birdie."
The final pairing for Saturday's third round featured two well-known players in Suzann Pettersen and Michelle Wie, but on "Moving Day," both players found themselves headed in the wrong direction.
Pettersen, who led after 36 holes at 5-under-par, and Wie, who was T2 after shooting a 66 on Friday, each shot a 6-over 78 to move respectively to 1-over and 2-over for the championship. While neither player could be considered completely out of the championship following their rough third rounds, they know that it will take a lot to catch Choi since conditions will surely be tough again on Sunday.
"There's birdies out there," Pettersen said. "I think the wind is going to be a little bit less tomorrow from what I've seen. So if you get off to a hot start, hopefully put a number down early in the clubhouse. Who knows."
"Obviously a low score is good," said Wie of her goal for Sunday. "You have to look for that. But it's still Blackwolf Run and shooting 65 is difficult, so I'm going to go out there and play the best score I can. Par is a good score, but obviously being so far back right now you have to make some birdies out there tomorrow."
Yani Tseng's quest for the career grand slam will have to wait another year. Tseng failed to make up ground in Saturday's third round, firing a 6-over 78 to move to 8-over-par for the championship and 16 shots out of the lead. It certainly was not the type of performance that the 23-year-old was hoping for this week, although she took solace in her play on the back nine Saturday.
"The front 9 could have been much better," Tseng said of her round on Saturday. "I feel stressful, because I mean, if you feel comfortable to hit on the shot, I don't think that's very hard goal to achieve. And today I just didn't do it, those three, four holes. I feel confidence on the back 9. Hitting lots of good shots on the back 9 too.
Tseng's 78 on Saturday marked the 10th consecutive round that she has failed to break par. It's been a rough stretch for the world's No. 1 golfer but she is trying to take the positives out of each round.
"I feel much better," Tseng said. "This week I feel way better than last couple of weeks. I think my game is on the way -- I think it's going to be coming back soon. I have two weeks off. I'm going to the Evian. So I'm going to get ready for the Evian. I think tomorrow if I play a good day then everything will feel good."
15-year-old Lydia Ko has an opportunity to take home low amateur honors this week at the U.S. Women's Open. After shooting a 7-over 79 on Saturday to move to 9-over-par overall, Ko leads fellow amateur Alison Lee by three shots.
"I want to become the leading amateur for this tournament," Ko said. "But the pressure was a bit off [after I made the cut], because I've never missed a cut in a tournament, and I would be kind of gutted if I did it at the U. S. Open. And it's better experience if you play on the weekend, too."
Ko, who is ranked the No. 1 Women's Amateur in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, became the youngest person to ever win a professional golfer event back in February. She won the Bing Lee/Samsung Women's NSW Open on the ALPG at the age of 14. Ko also played in one LPGA Tour event earlier this year, the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, where she finished in a T19.
Co-first-round leader Brittany Lincicome bounced back from an 80 on Saturday to shoot a 2-over 74 and sits in a T33 at 2-over-parWhile there were only five rounds under par in the third round, there were 19 scores recorded in the 80sThe average score for Saturday's third round was 76.90.
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