Michelle Wie was in a strong position to win her first major after hitting a four-under-par 68 to share the lead with fellow US golfer Lexi Thompson at the end of the third round of the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship on Saturday in Rancho Mirage, California.
Returning to the Mission Hills Country Club where she almost won her maiden major eight years ago, the former child prodigy throttled back her powerful swing and notched four birdies on her way to a 10-under 206 total.
If Wie was a little timid with the putter, so was the 19-year-old Thompson, who might have had the lead outright had she not three-putted the final hole for a 69.
“I just need to not get too nervous [and] just play like the kid I was,” Wie told the Golf Channel.
Wie and Thompson were two strokes ahead of British teenager Charley Hull and South Korean veteran Pak Se-ri, who shared third place on the leaderboard at the first major of the LPGA season.
Now 24, Wie has been playing in professional tournaments for more than a decade, which makes her a seasoned veteran compared with Thompson.
Wie left several putts short at the course, including a birdie opportunity from 12-feet at the par-five 18th, but Thompson was also flawed on the greens, as she showed by bogeying the par-five 18th after missing a five-foot putt.
Thompson already has three LPGA wins which gives her one more than Wie, who gained fame in her early teenage years by competing regularly in men’s tournaments.
She was widely expected to dominate women’s golf after turning professional in 2005, but her career stalled amid injuries and a loss of confidence.
Wie, who tied for third at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco, will play with Thompson in the final round, but it would be rash to discount Hull and Pak’s chances.
The 18-year-old Hull vaulted into contention with a bogey-free 66 — the best round of the day — while five-time major winner Pak stayed in the hunt despite three back-nine bogeys in her 71.
Taiwan’s Candie Kung took joint 57th with the US’ Paula Creamer after carding a 220 total.
Additional reporting by staff writer
? HOUSTON OPEN
Sergio Garcia faltered as Matt Kuchar took command of the UPGA Shell Houston Open with a four-stroke lead after the third round on Saturday.
Six-time PGA Tour winner Kuchar put on a long game clinic and despite a closing three-putt bogey finished with a four-under-par 68 at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas.
The American started the day one shot behind Spaniard Garcia, who faded with a mediocre 73 to fall into a tie for second with the US’ Cameron Tringale (69).
Kuchar has a six-shot gap on fourth-placed Matt Jones of Australia as he seeks a confidence-boosting victory heading to the Masters this week.
“The game plan is to play four good rounds,” Kuchar told PGATour.com after signing for a 15-under 201 total. “It was another good performance. I feel like my swing’s getting better and better.”
World No. 11 Kuchar did not sink a putt longer than 15 feet as he compiled six birdies and two bogeys. He saved par from six feet at the 17th hole, but missed from a similar distance at the last to at least give his rivals a glimmer of hope.
Buoyed by a deft par-save after missing the green at the final hole, Garcia was encouraged that he remained within striking distance.