Min rocks leader board with 65 for 1-shot edge

June 10, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

Among the more than three dozen players of Korean heritage who teed off Thursday in the McDonald's LPGA Championship in Havre de Grace, few had a lower profile than Na On Min.

That could change dramatically today for the youngest member of the LPGA.

Min, an 18-year-old rookie, shot a 7-under-par 65 in yesterday's third round to climb over a list of more accomplished players to the top of the leader board at Bulle Rock.

At 10-under 206, Min leads second-round leader Suzann Pettersen of Norway by one stroke. Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Australia and Angela Park, another 18-year-old rookie with Korean roots, are two strokes behind.

Should either Min or Park win, she would become the youngest major champion in LPGA history. Morgan Pressel, who comes into today's final round three strokes back, was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old when she won this year's Kraft Nabisco.

Asked what it would mean to follow her idol, Se Ri Pak, as the winner of the LPGA Championship, Min said: "If I win this tournament, it's like no way to describe."

That Min has vaulted into contention in only her sixth LPGA event doesn't surprise her veteran caddie.

"She's the best 18-year-old player I've ever seen," said Dana Derouaux, who in 25 years has worked for players such as Hall of Famer Donna Caponi and former LPGA champion Jan Stephenson. "She has more talent and more confidence at her age. Nothing really bothers her."

As others saw their scores fluctuate with the gusty winds that buffeted the course yesterday, Min was steady. After a bogey on the par-5 second hole, Min made a birdie on the par-3 third, the first of eight in the round.

Min didn't notice how Pettersen had thrown away a three-stroke lead after five holes, climbed back into a tie for the lead with an eagle on the par-5 11th, then gave it up again with a double bogey on the par-4 13th.

Nor did Min see how another Hall of Famer, three-time champion Annika Sorenstam, started the round three strokes behind Pettersen at 5-under but might have shot her way out of contention with a 1-over 73 to fall six behind.

Or how Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, who replaced Sorenstam earlier this year as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, might have put herself back in the hunt with a 3-under 69 and is now five strokes off the lead.

According to her caddie, Min was oblivious to everything.

"She gets there on the golf course, and she doesn't see anything. She has blinders on," Derouaux said. "She was trying not to look at leader boards today. She said, `I cannot look down, I can look up, I'm a professional golfer.' I said, `Look at the guys.' She's just very focused."

The lack of major championship experience could work in Min's favor, and possibly Park's as well.

"The young kids that you see, you see them doing well every week and winning and competing," said Webb, 32, who lost in a playoff to Pak last year, and is looking for her eighth major championship and 36th career victory. "I think sometimes ignorance is bliss, so we'll see which pays off tomorrow."

Said Park of the two 18-year-olds at the top of the leader board: "The younger you are, the better you are? No, just kidding. Obviously, she's been working hard and I've been working hard. I think [today] it really comes down to who is more patient and more confident and who is the calmer one, the more experienced one."

Park paused, realizing what she had said.

"Obviously, I'm not very experienced and she's not very experienced," said Park, who has played in 12 events and finished in the top 10 twice. "Obviously, there's a lot of veterans out there. You have Suzann Pettersen and Karrie Webb. Everybody is in contention."

Pettersen, 26, was also in the final group at the Kraft Nabisco. She came into the final round tied for the lead with Pak, built a four-stroke lead with four holes to play and collapsed, losing by one to Pressel.

"What I learned from that is you don't have to hit every shot perfect," said Pettersen, who won for the first time at the Michelob Ultra Open in Williamsburg, Va.

Webb and Pettersen said they had no idea who Min is, just as her caddie didn't when he was given instructions to meet "a little girl with the red shirt" on the putting green at the LPGA's home course in Daytona Beach, Fla., before the tour's qualifying school last fall.

"I probably have seen her, but by name, there's so many of them [Koreans]," Pettersen said. "It's so hard to keep track of them. I'll probably know her when I see her on the first tee."

Many more will know her if she still has the lead after her final putt.

Someone wanted to know what Min's biggest win has been to date.

"This is my sixth professional tournament," she said. "So before that, there was no big tournament."

There certainly is now.

don.markus@baltsun.com

Third round

THE LEADER ...

Na On Min 71-70-65-206 -10

... AND SELECTED FOLLOWERS

Suzann Pettersen 69-67-71-207 -9 Angela Park 67-73-68-208 -8 Karrie Webb 68-69-71-208 -8 Morgan Pressel 68-71-70-209 -7 Annika Sorenstam 70-69-73-212 -4 Michelle Wie 73-74-83-230 +14

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