At the end of a dawn-to-dusk day at Bulle Rock, Ai Miyazato and Pat Hurst were tied atop the leader board after three rounds of the LPGA Championship - but all eyes were on one of the golfers right behind them.
Sinking a birdie putt on the last green, Michelle Wie pulled within one shot of the co-leaders and put herself into position to contend for her first major title today in the final round in Havre de Grace.
"This course still owes me a really good round. I'm going to try to shoot it and see what happens," said Wie, 16, who shot a 71 yesterday.
The co-leaders and Wie are among 13 golfers within three strokes of each other after 54 holes.
"It should be exciting [today]. I will be nervous," said Miyazato, 20, who is Japan's version of Wie - a soaring, young talent who has become a major sports attraction in her country.
Three-time defending champion Annika Sorenstam is six shots back after shooting 75 yesterday.
"It's never too late, but things have got to change," she said.
Wie didn't play as well yesterday as she did in Friday's second round, in which she shot 68. Her drives tended to drift to the left and into trouble yesterday, and she didn't sink many key putts. She seemed destined to end on a down note after missing a short par putt on No. 17.
"Just a bad putt. I pulled it to the left," she said.
But she regrouped with the birdie on No. 18.
"I was pretty [angry] after 17. I was ready to bite someone's head off," Wie said. "So I think I kind of channeled that frustration into a good hole."
Wie seemingly had a built-in advantage yesterday because she only had to play 18 holes; most of the rest of the field had to start at 8 a.m. and finish their second rounds, which had been delayed by Friday's rains.
But Wie's erratic play offset whatever advantage she had. She birdied the first hole, bogeyed the next two, birdied No. 4 and bogeyed No. 5. Not until the sixth hole did she finally register a par.
"It was a very up-and-down day," she said. "I didn't feel like I had any real momentum. But I felt like I was playing very solidly. I was hitting the ball great except for a couple of tee shots here and there."
Hurst, who had to play eight holes in the morning before the third round in the afternoon, also had some could-have-beens. She three-putted from 3 feet for a double bogey on No. 9, missed a 4-footer for the lead on No. 15 and missed a 10-footer for birdie on the final hole that would have given her sole possession of the lead. She ended with a 72.
"I'm a little tired, but I went home and took a nap [between rounds], so I'm OK," said Hurst, a 37-year-old mother of two from Scottsdale, Ariz., who won a major title in 1998 (the Nabisco Dinah Shore) but has operated largely out of the headlines while putting together a solid pro career.
Hurst had relatively few fans in her gallery yesterday, as opposed to Wie, whose gallery was easily the largest on the grounds, and also Miyazato, who is being trailed by a sizable swarm of Japanese reporters and cameramen.
Officially, Miyazato is an LPGA rookie, but her impressive credentials give her away as a more formidable golfer. She became a household name in Japan while in high school, turned pro in 2003, won a major championship last year and played in an event on the Japanese men's tour.
She was among the earnings leaders on the Japanese women's tour for two straight years before deciding to try the U.S. tour. She has recorded two top-10 finishes in 11 starts in the U.S. this year.
As Wie, Miyazato and Hurst moved to the top yesterday, they crossed paths with a handful of golfers who were dropping after having made headlines earlier in the tournament.
Dorothy Delasin, a leader when play began early yesterday, shot a third-round 81.
"I couldn't get my flow going and it was just one bad thing after another," Delasin said.
Two of the LPGA's bright young lights also struggled: Morgan Pressel shot 79 and Paula Creamer shot 75.
But the brightest of the young lights, Wie, was in contention as the sun set, ready to make another run after having finished second behind Sorenstam in this tournament last year.
"This year I feel a lot more confident with my game," she said. "I'm feeling really good."
She said she had a score in mind that she wanted to shoot today, but wouldn't reveal it.
"You'll see tomorrow," she said. email@example.com
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