It is the final round of the final event in the Duramed FUTURES Tour's 19-tournament season. But for players hoping for a strong finish or a hard-fought win on Sunday, it is the last dash for one of the coveted 2007 LPGA Tour cards awarded to the top five season money winners.
'This is an important time for everyone,' said Ji Min Jeong of Kyungki, Korea, who broke a three-way tie for the lead with a 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole today to grab the lead at 134 (-8). 'I'm nervous a little bit and happy too, for a chance to win.'
Jeong, who also led after the first round, fired a 3-under-par 68 today at Capital Hills at Albany. And with Danielle Downey (68) of Spencerport, N.Y., and Meaghan Francella (67) of Port Chester, N.Y., finishing tied for second one shot back at 135 (-7), Jeong admitted there's not much breathing room in such a tight race.
'I saw the scoreboard at the 18th hole with three players tied at seven under and I said, 'If I make this putt, I'll player easier tomorrow,'' she said.
Or is that, sleep easier tonight?
'We were all pretty wound up today,' said Francella, who drained her own 15-footer for birdie on the last hole to move into a tie for second with Downey. 'There's a lot at stake here and it's all coming down to this. But I'm rolling the ball well and I'm just trying to win.'
For a better idea of how Sunday's final-round stress fest will begin, consider that in the last two pairings of players, No. 9 Hye Jung Choi of Seoul, Korea, No. 7 Allison Fouch of Grand Rapids, Mich., and No. 6 Ashley Prange of Noblesville, Ind., will play together. Prange (67), Fouch (69) and Choi (69) are tied at 137 (-5) and all are hoping to reshuffle the Tour's money list and unseat No. 4 Kristy McPherson of Conway, S.C., and No. 5 Angela Park of Torrance, Calif. After two rounds, McPherson is tied for 36th at 145 (+3) and Park is tied for 13th at 141 (-1). A mere $103 separates fifth-ranked Park from sixth-ranked Prange with one round to play.
'We're all very, very aware of what's going on, but I'm trying to win a tournament and I've been trying to do that all year,' said Fouch, a two-time runner-up this season who is $223 behind sixth-ranked Prange. 'There are at least four of us gunning for that fifth spot.'
And in the final pairing is Downey, ranked 27th, alongside No. 8 Francella and No. 31st Jeong. Both Jeong and Francella have won this season, but only Francella has a chance to crack the top five. The New Yorker admitted that she had to force herself not to get too sidetracked in today's pairing alongside Fouch and Choi, who also can move into the top five with a win this weekend.
'It would have really been easy for Allison, Choi and I to get into a battle between ourselves today, but this is not match play,' said Francella, who carded five birdies and one bogey. 'I made myself stay in the present and I'll try to do the same thing tomorrow.'
But while the race for the five LPGA Tour cards weighs on everyone's mind, there is, of course, still a tournament to be won. Downey, whose last win came in 2004, moved another step closer to winning with her round that included four birdies and one bogey on a day in which she used 27 putts to move into a share of second on the 6,121-yard course.
'I've been putting well for a while and when you're burning the edges of the cup, they will start to fall,' Downey said.
On top of the already frayed nerves, players could have been rocked out of their routines today when afternoon thunderstorms suspended play twice. The first 46-minute suspension came at 2:45 p.m., with play resuming at 3:31 p.m. The second 47-minute suspension came at 5:39 p.m., with play resuming at 6:26 p.m. After the first delay, Downey returned to the course and birdied No. 8. After the second delay, she returned to birdie No. 16.
'I'm just one shot back -- same as yesterday, so I'll try to be aggressive,' Downey said. 'Why not go for it all?'
And while others admit to wrestling for a few winks of sleep this week, Jeong, who says she sleeps well 'anywhere, anytime,' hopes she can continue to approach each hole and each round as if it were her 'first hole or first round.'
'It's like starting over again on each hole or each day,' said Jeong. 'That's a good mind game. I will try to play like I did on Friday and today, and just play with what I have.'
Seventy-one players made the 36-hole cut at 151 (+9) on the par-71 course.