Locked in a tie at three-under par, the long hitter slam-dunked her 9-iron tee shot 145 yards on the 17th hole for a timely ace to grab the lead. Even with her fourth three-putt green of the day from 30 feet on the last hole, Welch carded her second consecutive round of two-under-par 70 to take a one-stroke lead into Sundays final round at 140 (-4).
She leads Taya Battistella (70) of Bend, Ore., and rookies Y.J. Jin (71) and Chella Choi (71), both of Seoul, South Korea, all tied at 141 (-3).
It wasnt very pretty and to be in my position right now after how bad I played on the front nine, yeah, its not bad, said Welch of Sacramento, an 11-time collegiate winner while at Washington State University, who is still seeking her first professional title.
Not bad, indeed. Three of Welchs three-putt greens came on holes No. 1, 7 and 8. She only had one lip-out chance for birdie on the front nine, which prompted a little thigh slapping and tough self-talk en route to the second nine. What she said to herself translates roughly to, Just find a way to get the ball in the hole.
That, she did. Welch birdied the 10th from 20 feet, burned the edge of the cup from 20 feet on the 11th, thinned an 8-iron from 130 yards to hole out on the 12th hole for an eagle-2, missed an eagle chance but grabbed the birdie from 12 feet on the par-five 14th, saved par from the woods on No. 16, then finished out the round with an ace-bogey on the last two holes. That rollercoaster performance was enough to give former LPGA Tour winner Barb Mucha, walking in Welchs gallery, a case of indigestion to go with Welchs head cold.
Barb has been working with me on my short game a little bit, said Welch of Muchas interest in her game. I came here this week ready to win.
Of course, in the season-opening tournament, its a new year and every player is itching to earn the first win of 2008.
It will be exciting to see what happens tomorrow, said Battistella, a second-year Duramed FUTURES Tour member who played collegiately at the University of Colorado and Portland State University.
Battistella carded six birdies and four bogeys in todays wind. She hit every fairway in regulation and rolled in 27 putts that made her rough winter look like great preparation for a new season.
I worked two jobs this winter and didnt get to play much golf, so today, I think I just appreciated every shot more than usual, said Battistella, also still seeking her first win.
Jin and Choi, a pair of 17-year-old pros, never got flustered in the wind. While Jin bogeyed all three of Cleveland Heights Golf Courses par-three holes, she rolled in five birdies to her four bogeys and was giggling about her chance to win her Tour debut.
I hit it low, so the wind shots worked for me today, said Jin. I hope I play great tomorrow.
Six players are tied at 142 (-2), including first-round leader Sae Hee Son (76) of Seoul, Korea and 2005 Lakeland tournament winner Jin Young Pak (73) of Kang Leung, South Korea.
I have good memories here because it was my first win as a pro and my first win in the U.S., said Pak. But today, the wind changed all the time and I had to really focus, so now my mind is tired.
Son struggled with only one birdie today -- a six-footer on the seventh hole that couldnt negate her five bogeys. It was a day that included 31 putts in spite of support from good pals and LPGA stars Se Ri Pak and Sarah Lee, who drove to Lakeland from nearby Orlando and walked the course with the former LPGA Tour member.
The greens here are small and in the wind, sometimes they are a little hard to hold, said Son, who played on the LPGA Tour from 2005-2007. I did too much thinking about distance and I just need to keep focused on my game.
Eighty players made the 36-hole cut at 149 (+5).