This was laying out perfectly for Michelle Wie.
Coming off her best performance in a major, a promising runner-up finish to Lexi Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in her last start, Wie wasn’t just coming home this week to Hawaii and the Lotte Championship. She was coming home with momentum and confidence, and to a golf course she grew up playing. She was coming home with an entire state eager to see her end a nearly four-year winless spell.
Apparently, however, Angela Stanford didn’t get the memo that this is Wie’s home game.
The 36-year-old Texan is playing as if she were the one who grew up at Ko Olina Golf Club.
Stanford couldn’t look more comfortable if she were playing Shady Oaks, her home course back in Fort Worth.
“Just a windy day in Texas,” Stanford said after posting a brilliant 5-under-par 67 Friday in blustery conditions.
With a penetrating, low ball flight she honed in Texas winds, Stanford opened up a four-shot lead on Wie (70) and Hyo Joo Kim (69) going into Saturday’s final round.
“There’s not enough space,” Stanford said when asked about playing with Wie and the home crowd accompanying her. “I can’t create enough space between her right now.”
Stanford goes into the finish knowing she has already achieved something Wie hasn’t in Hawaii. Stanford has won as a professional in the Aloha State. She claimed the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in heavy winds over the North Shore of Oahu in ’09. Stanford is seeking her sixth LPGA title.
Don’t count out Wie. Her ball striking continues to impress, continues to give her chances to win.
For the third time this year, Wie will tee it up in the final pairing in the final round of an LPGA event. She tied for fourth the first time she played her way into the final group this year, at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. She improved on that, finishing second to Thompson at the Kraft. Now, she’s looking to take the next step.
“Ideally, going into tomorrow, I wouldn't want to be this far behind,” Wie said. “I think it will make it more interesting tomorrow, just go out there and try to make some birdies early on and see what I can do.”
Cristie Kerr (70) will start the day five shots back with Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park (72) seven back. With the winds expected to be up again on Saturday, a low round could go a long way in helping the pack pursuing the leader.
Stanford’s and Wie’s crisp ball striking have helped them climb the leaderboard. Stanford’s putting has been the difference. She needed just 26 putts in the third round. Wie needed 29.
“My putter was great again,” Stanford said.
Stanford has taken eight fewer putts than Wie over three rounds.
Wie leads the tour in scoring and hitting greens in regulation, and her ball striking put her in good positions again Friday.
“A lot of birdie opportunities today,” Wie said. “It was one of those head-scratching days, where I'd hit putts, hit the perfect speed, right where I want to, and then it would go completely off the direction.
“It was really my day to do it.”
Wie was asked what it would be like to win at home.
“It would be a lot of fun,” she said. “It would be awesome. I'm just not going to think too far ahead. I have a lot of work ahead of me for tomorrow, just see what I can do. I'm going to play my hardest and just play my heart out tomorrow.”
Stanford won’t be easy to beat in the winds, even with a sore elbow. She shot a 64 in the second round.
“Growing up in Texas, I hit it low anyway, and it's a disadvantage at some golf courses, but here in Hawaii it helps,” Stanford said. “So, sometimes, I let it get up in the air, and I let the wind help me. I think that's been the fun part this week, is I've gotten to hit so many different shots.”
Ultimately, Stanford’s hoping to have some fun hoisting another trophy, but so is Wie, who will have the home-state fans rooting for her again.