SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) – A marathon day ended with a loud crack of thunder, but not before Lorena Ochoa and Cristie Kerr charged up the leaderboard Saturday as the U.S. Women’s Open finally came to life.
Ji-Yai Shin birdied the last hole she played before darkness set in and showers pelted Pine Needles a short time later. She was at 5 under par through 10 holes, one shot clear of Ochoa, Kerr and 36-hole leader Angela Park.
Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the world seeking her first major, came out swinging when the third round began late in the afternoon, with two birdies on the first three holes, and back-to-back birdies around the turn. Kerr, often overlooked in the search for an American star, was even better. She was 5 under for her round through 13 holes, despite missing a few short birdie attempts.
One shot behind at 3 under was Morgan Pressel, the 19-year-old who in April became the youngest LPGA major champion in history.
It was another early exit for Michelle Wie, overtime for everyone else.
Wie walked off the course halfway through her second round, saying her left wrist was sore when she woke up and got even worse when she tried to play. She shot 42 on the back nine and was headed for another round in the 80s when she withdrew, and her future was never more clouded.
“There’s good days and bad days,” she said. “And obviously, today was not a good day. I just have to re-evaluate, make some smart choices and see how it works out.”
Pine Needles was cloudy, too, but the tournament caught a huge break when the nasty weather stayed away from the 7:30 a.m. resumption of the second round until it was too dark to matter.
But there was enough light for Ochoa’s wish to come true.
“I think that I’m close enough,” Ochoa said after rallying in the second round for a second straight 71, leaving her five shots behind Park after 36 holes. “Hopefully, my name means something on the leaderboard, and I’m ready to play a good round.”
Turns out the 25-year-old Mexican star was ready.
Her eagle putt from just short of the first green lipped out, giving her an easy birdie. She poured in a 10-foot birdie on the par-3 third, and gave herself plenty of chances for more birdies, not missing a fairway on the front nine.
In the twilight of the sand hills, several Mexicans from the Pine Needles grounds crew added to her gallery, carrying her along.
“Vamos Lorena!” they cried.
She delivered with a 7-foot birdie on the ninth, and a 20-foot birdie on the 10th to pull into a share of the lead. Ochoa was in the 12th fairway when she chose not to finish the hole.
Shin was at 3-under 139, along with Amy Hung (69) and Julieta Granda (60). Shin, a 19-year-old South Korean, missed a 4-foot eagle attempt on the first hole, ran off a string of pars then took advantage of the tees being moved forward on the par-5 10th for a birdie that gave her the lead.
She has played only two LPGA Tour events, but is considered the next in line of strong South Koreans. And not many have dealt with her kind of adversity. As an an amateur, she was invovled in a car accident driving to a tournament that killed her mother, and it took Shin time to recover from her own injuries.
She will return to Pine Needles at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, facing one more day with the biggest prize in women’s golf at stake.
Kerr wants a piece of it, too.
For all the talk about American youth, she gets forgotten in a world of Pressel, Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome. Kerr was among the pioneers who turned pro out of high school 11 years ago, and the 29-year-old from Miami already has compiled nine victories.
This might be her best shot at a major.
“It’s been a very long day of golf, and I’m looking forward to the rest tonight and just doing the best I can, and honestly I’m not going to put any pressure on myself,” Kerr said.
She was more thrilled to get her swing sorted out than posting a string of birdies, figuring the score will take care of itself.
Pressel got off to a rugged start, failing to birdie the easy first hole, three-putted for bogey on the second and missing a short birdie attempt on her next hole. But she got on track with a birdie on the sixth, and was 2 under for her round through 11 holes.
Defending champion Annika Sorenstam remained nine shots behind with six holes remaining in her third round. She traded birdies and bogeys, and didn’t look like she was ready to make any kind of charge required to get into contention.
“I really like my position,” Ochoa said. “It was important to go low in the third round. We still have a lot of holes left, but I like where I am right now. Tomorrow’s going to be a special day.”