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Choi takes command of U.S. Women's Open

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KOHLER, Wis. – South Koreans could not look any more comfortable in this U.S. Women's Open if it were played in Seoul.

Na Yeon Choi blistered Blackwolf Run Saturday with a 7-under-par 65 to position herself for a runaway victory.

If she holds on, Choi will be the fourth South Korean to win the U.S. Women’s Open in the last five years, the sixth since 1998, when Se Ri Pak launched this South Korean golf phenomenon with her victory here. If Choi wins, South Koreans will have claimed both of the U.S. Women’s Opens played at Blackwolf Run.

This place is practically sacred ground for South Koreans.

“This is a very special golf course, and I’m very honored,” Choi said of leading at Blackwolf Run. “Not just me, but I think all the South Koreans feel honored to be playing here this week.”

At 8 under overall, Choi has built a six-shot lead. How formidable is that? Nobody has ever come from more than five shots back in the final round to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

Choi is six shots ahead of fellow South Korean Amy Yang and seven ahead of American Lexi Thompson, Germany’s Sandra Gal and Japan’s Mika Miyazato.

How good was Choi’s round?

Only four players have posted better rounds in the 67-year history of the U.S. Women’s Open.

Choi didn’t carve up a cupcake course, either. Blackwolf Run was set up to be considerably tougher in the third round than it was all week. Plus, there was more wind than in any other round with gusts to 25 mph.

The third-round scoring average was 76.89, the highest this week. That’s unusual as scoring averages typically plummet after the cut is made.

Choi was one of just five players to break par Saturday, and she was four shots better than Yang, who posted the day’s next best score.

Nineteen players couldn’t break 80.

“It was pretty crazy, that 65,” said Michelle Wie, who started the day one shot back but begins Sunday 10 back after posting a 78.

Suzann Pettersen, the 36-hole leader, also shot 78.

Of the last 28 players off in the third round, Choi is the only player who broke par. She made eight birdies and a bogey.

The USGA’s Ben Kimball, who is in charge of course setup, shook his head when asked if he could envision somebody shooting 65 with Saturday’s setup and conditions.

“No way,” Kimball said. “What an unbelievable round.”

Kimball didn’t think anyone would even shoot in the 60s.

“Na Yeon just played her heart out today,” Kimball said.

Fellow players couldn’t believe what they were seeing with Choi’s red number growing larger and larger all day.

“Na Yeon beat the field by about 12 shots today,” said Cristie Kerr (77). “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Choi, 24, is yet another of “Se Ri’s kids.” Choi didn’t yet play golf when she got up in the middle of the night to watch Pak win the U.S. Women’s Open on South Korean television in ’98.

“All the golfers in South Korea, we call Se Ri `The Legend,’” Choi said.

It should come as no surprise that Choi leads this U.S. Women Open. She is the best women’s player who hasn’t won a major. She’s a five-time LPGA winner with seven KLPGA titles. She was the LPGA’s leading money winner in 2010, when she also won the tour’s Vare Trophy for low scoring average. She was No. 2 in the world most of last year and ranks No. 5 now.

Choi goes by the nickname “The Big Apple,” because of her NYC initials. She’s a soft-spoken but well spoken player who takes a ton of confidence into Sunday.

“I was very surprised,” Choi said of her score. “The main thing, I wasn't nervous on the course. I'm more nervous right now. But on the course I wasn't nervous. I had a great time out there.”

South Koreans are poised to have a great time watching another one of their players win the world’s most prestigious women’s golf championship.