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Pressel halfway to second major

Morgan Pressel at the 2013 Wegmans LPGA Championship
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Morgan Pressel is “a grinder, a fighter.”

Those were the words of U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon after she watched Pressel get into contention this week at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

As the overnight leader going into the Sunday finale at Locust Hill Country Club, Pressel will need all her grinding and fighting skills to survive a 36-hole marathon finish alongside Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, the hottest player on the planet. Park won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in the spring and is seeking to become just the third player in nearly 40 years to win the first two major championships of the women’s season.

With a 2-under-par 70 Saturday, Pressel built a two-shot lead on Park (68) and Chella Choi (73). Pressel is three ahead of Jiyai Shin (73), Sarah Jane Smith (69) and Amy Yang (70).

Pressel, Park and Choi will go off in the final pairing, but with 36 holes to play, big moves are possible from back in the pack. With Locust Hill’s punishing rough, this setup has proven a terrific venue for hot players to separate themselves in a big way. Cristie Kerr won here by a record 12 shots in 2010. Yani Tseng followed with a 10-shot rout a year later.

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On Saturday, Wie showed how quickly a player can soar up the leaderboard. She jumped 57 spots in the second round, shooting 68. Wie is tied for 14th at even par and among a throng of players with a chance to win if they’re on top of their games.

Pressel, 25, mired in an injury-riddled year-long slump, suddenly appears to be back on top of her game.

“I feel calm out there,” Pressel said. “And I haven’t felt calm out there in a long time.”

Park, after a pair of sluggish starts, looks to be getting back in top form, too. Park has already won three LPGA titles this season. She’s bidding to give the South Koreans their fourth consecutive major championship triumph and Asia its ninth consecutive major title.

“I hit the ball great today,” Park said. “I only missed two fairways and three greens, and I wasn’t really in the long stuff.”

Never a long hitter, Pressel scrapped her way to two LPGA titles, a 7-2-2 Solheim Cup record and a U.S. Women’s Amateur title wearing out her competition with precision driving and iron play and a streaky hot putter. That’s the form that helped her become the youngest winner of a major championship when she claimed the Kraft Nabisco when she was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old. She won her second title at the Kapalua LPGA Classic in 2008, her last victory.

“I feel good about the way that I'm playing,” Pressel said. “I feel good about my approach to playing, which is just as important sometimes.”

There would be something poetic about Pressel winning at Locust Hill. This is where she injured her left wrist a year ago, picking up a malady that spiraled her into the worst slump of her career. She was diagnosed with intersection syndrome, a ligament and joint malady caused by repetitive action. She had to withdraw from back-to-back events after hurting herself at Locust Hill and then missed four consecutive cuts.

Pressel says her wrist is just fine this week, but she will take precautionary measures. She knows what too much time in Locust Hill’s rough can do.

“I'm not worried about it,” Pressel said. “I'll get a little bit ahead of it, certainly ice it tonight and take some Advil and anti-inflammatories, just to prevent anything. If it hurts me on Monday, well, then that'll be OK, as long as it doesn't bother me tomorrow.”

Sunday shapes up as so much more than a test of physical skill.

“I think it's going to be much more of a mental test, than it is a physical, walking test,” Pressel said. “I run a lot. I'm in plenty good of enough shape to get through 36 holes tomorrow, from that standpoint.

The question will be just how committed I can be to every shot, because when you get tired, your mind starts to wander. So, that'll be the biggest test tomorrow, truly staying focused on every shot. At the end of the day, I probably won't want to think another second. But that will mean that I gave it my all and I was patient out there.”

Pressel is hoping it’s a formula that wins her a second major.