It appears only Ochoa can stop herself.
The world No. 1 strung birdies at 10, 11 and 12 Saturday in the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year and an event she has never won.
But her lead by nightfall was just one shot over Hee Won Han by one shot thanks to 3-putts bogeys coming home on 15 and 18. And, okay, there wasnt any rain or snow or sleet at Mission Hills Country Club. But golf balls were blowing all over the place. Conditions were treacherous.
By 7 a.m. Saturday the winds sweeping over the Santa Rosa Mountains and whistling down through the Coachella Valley had already started to howl.
The leaders in the Kraft Nabisco Championship wouldnt tee off for more than six hours. But the forces of nature served notice early that the third round of the years first major in womens golf was going to be a contact sport.
At 8:19 a.m. a force of nature named Suzann Pettersen teed off in the second group of the day with little fanfare and even less expectations. The voluble Norwegian was 5 over par and 10 shots behind co-leaders Lorena Ochoa and Heather Young.
The worlds third-ranked player still hadnt posted a top 10 this in 2008. And this was the tournament Pettersen gifted to Morgan Pressel last year when she went bogey-double bogey-bogey on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes of the final round. Then she insulted her own injured psyche by leaving short the birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have gotten her into a playoff with Pressel.
Quietly'very quietly Saturday'Pettersen birdied the par 5 2nd and the par 3 3rd. Then she laced a 6-iron from 158 yards into the teeth of the wind on the par 4 7th. And the ball didnt stop until it had nestled into the bottom of the cup. Three more birdies on the back nine and Pettersen had carved out an unlikely 65 that moved her to 2-under and within three shots of the leaders who, at that point, still hadnt struck a shot in anger.
To Pettersens credit, she had recovered quickly from the mess she made here last year. At the very next major championship, the McDonalds LPGA, she fired a final round 67 to edge Karrie Webb by a shot and capture her first major by one shot. She backed that up later in the year by winning three of the four events she entered in the month of October.
And despite a slow start this year she arrived in Rancho Mirage with confidence. I had been playing great for a couple of good weeks now, she said. Just nothing happening. But today I turned it around.
With the wind dying, and then resurrecting itself and then dying and then doubling back, another Saturday charge'less quiet than Pettersens'was mounting. Cristie Kerr, who the U.S. Womens Open 'last years third major'birdied six of the first 11 holes and trailed Ochoa by one only after Ochoa birdied her second hole.
Kerr closed with a 66 and after the round her caddie said she lipped out seven putts. It could, Kerr said, have been stupid low.
At one point late Saturday Ochoas lead had stretched to three. Then came the late bogeys. Now it appears somebody will not have to necessarily go stupid low to beat Ochoa Sunday.
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