Grown up Pressel hungry for first win since '08

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Morgan Pressel turned 27 just a week ago, but sometimes she feels a lot older.

That’s partly because so many of today’s up-and-coming young stars keep telling her how she inspired them.

Count Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko and Canada’s Brooke Henderson among them.

“I’m so old now,” Pressel cracked at the start of this week’s ShopRite Classic. “It’s kind of funny.”

It’s hard to believe this is Pressel’s 10th year playing the LPGA, but she is showing this week that she just might be poised for a run at her best year. A 2-under-par 69 Saturday at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club gives her a one-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round.

A phenom who stormed the biggest stage in the women’s game playing her first U.S. Women’s Open at 13 and nearly winning the championship at 17, Pressel radiated with confidence in her youth. She was pointed toward stardom back then and seemed in a hurry to get there. She won the Kraft Nabisco at 18, becoming the youngest women to win a major. She was 19 when she played in her first Solheim Cup and 20 when she won her second LPGA title at the Kapalua Classic.

Pressel, though, hasn’t won anything since.

At 27, Pressel isn’t old, but she has grown up in so many hard ways as a player.

If she prevails Sunday, it won’t be a victory anything like her first two. It won’t be a title won with the bravado of youth. It will be a triumph only a hungry veteran can feel relishing all the struggles that were overcome to claim it.

In fact, after a couple tough years fighting to rebuild her game and confidence, Pressel sounds like a woman who has learned to appreciate the struggle Sunday promises to bring, even to embrace it.

Win or lose, Pressel sounds like a woman relishing the opportunity hard work has given back to her.

“At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable with the results, the outcome, no matter what it is,” Pressel told media after Saturday’s round. “I feel like I'm in a good place, and I'm there, and no matter what happens tomorrow, I'm happy with my game and the direction that I'm heading.

“Tomorrow is not the end of the world, one way or the other, but I'm going to go out there and give it my best shot.”

Pressel’s career took a detour with an injury in 2012. She hurt herself hitting from the deep rough at the Wegmans LPGA Championship that year. She injured her thumb but played through the pain as it radiated into her wrist. She later battled neck pain and still isn’t sure today if the issues with her neck were the cause or the result of the other injuries.

Pressel knows this, though. She knows her swing changed through it all. She has fought her swing on and off ever since, but she found something earlier this year. She found something she will be relying on come Sunday.

“My game plan so far has been working,” Pressel said. “I'm really, really focusing on my golf swing right now, trying to make the best swing that I can on every shot, and really focus on what I'm trying to do and not so much about the results and the outcome. I think that that's probably been helpful this week, and I’m going to keep trying to do that tomorrow.”

Pressel’s healthy again, but even that wasn’t enough earlier this year. She played the Asian swing at year’s start feeling as if she didn’t know where the ball was going.

After working on her swing alone through the second half of last year, Pressel reunited with swing coach Ron Stockton before the Founders Cup in Phoenix. They overhauled her swing. Stockton changed Pressel’s takeaway, which had become too pronounced to the inside. Though she says she still fights old habits, she is getting back to the form that made her a formidable presence in majors and on the tour’s toughest setups.

Pressel missed getting in a playoff by one shot at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship. She lost the Swinging Skirts Classic in a playoff a month ago.

Pressel’s game is sharpening at an opportune time. There are three majors scheduled over the next nine weeks. Win or lose Sunday, Pressel is rebuilding a game built for the struggles majors present, struggles she seemed so suited for coming up in the game and seems so eager to embrace again.