BETHESDA -- For the past 10 months, Betsy King hasn't been in position to win a tournament. She was the leader going into yesterday's third round of the Mazda LPGA Championship, but the start of her round looked like more of the same.
"My tee shot on one was my worst shot of the day," said King, whose drive banged around a couple of trees before kicking back into the rough. "I was a little nervous."
But she didn't let anyone see her sweat. The 15-year veteran recovered and parred the first hole and finished the round with a 4-under-par 67 and a 54-hole total of 12-under 201 -- the lowest score after three rounds in LPGA major championship history. The three sub-70 rounds is good enough for a five-stroke lead over Helen Alfredsson going into today's final round at the Bethesda Country Club.
JoAnne Carner and Juli Inkster are six shots off the lead with three-round totals of 6-under 207, and Liselotte Neumann is two shots further back with a 4-under 209.
King, who started the day with a three-shot lead over Carner, birdied four holes and parred the rest to put herself into position to win her first Mazda LPGA title. Although King has not won since the JAL Big Apple Classic in New York last July, the player in the best position to catch her was offering a concession speech.
"You never lose hope, but, obviously, it's not likely," said Alfredsson, a tour rookie from Sweden, on her chances of catching King. "If it were anyone else, maybe there would be a chance. But Betsy's been in that position before, so it'll be tough."
Before the tournament, King predicted that an "over-30 player, maybe over-35" player would win here, although no player over 27 has won a tour event in more than two months.
"I just felt it was time for an older player to come through -- the law of averages," said King, 36. "The younger players had been dominating this year. It was time for one of us to beat them."
King wouldn't say whether she thought she was the one to step forward, but she has played that way. Through three rounds, King has 14 birdies and two bogeys, which both came on Friday, when she also recorded seven birdies to take the lead.
"It's been quite a while," King said, when asked when was the last time she has played as consistently. "I've been real fortunate. I've avoided disaster so far on this course."
So has Alfredsson, who started the day three shots behind King. A six-time national champion in Sweden, Alfredsson, who joined the LPGA last October, was nearly flawless in recording three birdies. Playing in her first major, Alfredsson, 27, has not shown any signs of being under pressure.
"In Europe, we don't have majors," Alfredsson said. "So I haven't been here long enough to understand their value."
Alfredsson probably would have a good chance to understand how it feels to win one if not for the play of King.
"I just have to go out and play my game," Alfredsson said. "[King] has to do what she has to do, and I have to do what I have to do. You never lose you hope."
King, who has won four majors, including the Nabisco Dinah Shore and the U.S. Women's Open in 1990, said she will continue to play the aggressive game that carried her yesterday.
"If I shot even [yesterday], I would have just a one-shot lead," King said. "With the exception of a couple of holes, I drove it well. That's the key to my success so far.
"You have to think aggressively," King continued on how she will approach today's final round. "Realistically, if I shoot par, I would win. But I don't think you can think that way. You have to go out there and make some birdies."
Another sub-70 round would make King the first female golfer to do so over four rounds since Amy Alcott did it in the 1989 Boston Five Classic. It would be a spectacular way to break out of a long slump.
"I'd rather be five shots up," King responded, when asked whether she'd prefer to be in the lead or trailing going into the last round. "I figure I can afford to make a few mistakes."
Unfortunately for the rest of the field, King hasn't made many.
The leader . . .
Betsy King 68-66-67--201 . . . and followers
Helen Alfredsson 69-69-68--206 Juli Inkster 70-71-66--207 JoAnne Carner 71-66-70--207 Liselotte Neumann 71-68-70--209 Patty Sheehan 71-70-69--210 Jan Stephenson 69-71-70--210 Alice Ritzman 68-71-71--210 Donna Andrews 68-75-68--211 Nancy Scranton 70-71-70--211 Brandie Burton 68-73-70--211 Amy Alcott 69-69-73--211
Par out: 454 344 434--35
King 454 344 324--33
Alfredsson 444 344 424--33
Carner 354 454 424--37
Inkster 454 335 324--33
Par in: 435 544 344--71--223
King 435 443 344--67--201
Alfredsson 434 544 344--68--206
Carner 424 534 344--70--207
Inkster 334 544 334--66--207