Sorenstam back on top at Eagle’s Landing

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STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. – Whether it’s one stroke or 10, Annika Sorenstam looks awfully imposing at the top of a leaderboard.

That’s where she was going into the final round at Eagle’s Landing Country Club.

Shrugging off a couple of rain delays, Sorenstam shot an 8-under-par 64 on Saturday – her third straight round in the 60s – and grabbed the lead at the Florida’s Natural Charity Championship.

“It’s been a long day. A very long day,” said Sorenstam, who finished up in the next-to-last group just as the sun was dipping below the trees at the course south of Atlanta. “But I’m very happy with my score. I thought I played some good golf.”

A year ago, Sorenstam had essentially wrapped up this tournament by the end of the third round, taking a 10-stroke lead to Sunday and winning by the same margin. This time, she went into the final 18 holes with a one-stroke cushion over 36-hole leader Sung Ah Yim, who posted a bogey-free 68.

“It’s a little bit of a different situation than last year,” Sorenstam said. “But having said that, I’m in great shape for tomorrow. I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I’m hitting a lot of fairways and greens, and I’m putting well.”

Indeed, it would be a major surprise if she doesn’t hang on to the lead.

Sorenstam is the only two-time winner of this event, and now she’s has a chance to be the first to win it back-to-back. She’s homing in on her second LPGA Tour win of the year and 68th of her Hall of Fame career.

Contrast that with Yim, a 22-year-old South Korean who’s in just her second year on the LPGA Tour and has never finished higher than third. And what about the rest of the field? No one else was within five shots of Sorenstam’s 17-under total of 199.

“She’s really better than me,” Yim acknowledged. “But I’m not scared. I’ve just got to hit it straight. Just do it.”

The start of the third round was delayed 45 minutes by rain, and play was halted again for nearly 11/2 hours while thunderstorms moved through the area. The rest of the round was played in mostly sunny conditions, though the final groups barely had enough daylight to finish up.

“The last four holes, we were playing straight into the sun and straight into the wind,” Sorenstam said. “I was looking at the clock, hoping, wondering, Can we finish today?’ It would have been quite a tough day (Sunday) if we couldn’t finish, have to get up early, finish and then start over.”

After teeing off late, Sorenstam was forced back to the clubhouse after playing a couple of holes. But she got things rolling with four straight birdies to finish the front nine, sinking three testy putts between 9 and 12 feet.

Sorenstam scrambled at the end for the lead. She hit two bunkers on No. 17, but managed to sink a 12-foot putt to save par. Then, going for the green with her second shot at the par-5 18th, her ball clipped an oak tree overhanging the fairway and fell to the ground along with a limb.

“My caddie told me not to get too cute,” Sorenstam said. “He told me, Just get it on the green. You’re putting well.’ That’s what I did.”

Sorenstam chipped 12 feet past the hole, then made the birdie putt coming back. She pumped her fist as the ball disappeared into the hole.

Karrie Webb, playing in her first tournament since winning the year’s opening major, dropped back with a 70. She’s among those in a five-way tie at 204, joined by rookie Brittany Lang, Beth Daniel, 49-year-old Sherri Turner and Jeong Jang.

Turner turned in the best round of the day, an amazing 63 that pushed her into contention. She had eight birdies, plus an eagle at the par-3 second hole, but a bogey at No. 7 cost her a chance to tie the course record (62) set by Barb Kolb in 1999.

Turner captured the last of her three tour victories in 1989. She hasn’t finished higher than 33rd this year but always seems to play well on this course, shooting a 63 in 1995 and making the only two double-eagles in tournament history.

“I’m very, very pleased,” Turner said. “It’s been a long time since I had a good score on Saturday.”

Jee Young Lee, who trailed Yim by one stroke at the start of the day, struggled to a 76 that left her 10 strokes behind Sorenstam.

Going the other way was first-round co-leader Cristie Kerr. Bouncing back from Friday’s 75, she stormed into contention with a 65 that left her at 205. It all started off with a brilliant par save at her first hole, where Kerr sank a 20-foot putt in a steady rain.

“It gave me a lot of confidence because I didn’t really putt well yesterday,” she said.

Then, after being forced to the clubhouse by the second round of storms, Kerr came back to birdie five of six holes before the turn.

“I feel good about my chances,” she said. “I’ll have to shoot 8 or 9 under to win, but that’s how it goes.”

Divots: Maria Hjorth, tied for the lead after Thursday’s round, hasn’t come close to matching her opening 65. The Swede was at 5 under after back-to-back 73s. … Sorenstam also won the tournament in 2001, when it was a 54-hole event. She beat Sophie Gustafson in a playoff. … Sorenstam needs a 66 on Sunday to equal her 23-under score from a year ago.

AP-ES-04-22-06 2123EDT

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