Confident Kerr Leads The Pack

U.s. Women's Open

Leader By Two Strokes Is Only Player Under Par

July 12, 2009|By Mark Wogenrich | Mark Wogenrich,Tribune Newspapers

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - - Earlier this week, Cristie Kerr defused the LPGA's commissioner hysterics by encouraging questions about her budding winemaking business. Asked how she's unwinding after each grueling round at Saucon Valley Country Club, Kerr didn't miss a beat.

"Wine," she said. "Wine and good food."

Must be a good vintage. Kerr, 31, takes a 2-shot lead into today's final round of the U.S. Women's Open, seeking her second title in three years. And she has the nerves, the putter, the position and the confidence to ensure she's popping another cork tonight.

Kerr is the only player under par through three rounds, reaching 2-under with a 1-over 72 on Saturday. She maintained her composure as others around her didn't (witness Paula Creamer's triple bogey at the 10th) and is one of only six players without a three-putt all week. Kerr also has yet to make a double bogey.

Further, she's making them chase, and that will be a tall order on the Old Course. Of the six players within five shots of Kerr, only one has shot below 74 in a previous Women's Open final round. That would be Candie Kung, whose finishing 70 helped her to tie for sixth at the 2005 Women's Open.

"I think I have the advantage," Kerr said. "I have won every way there is to win out on tour. I was leading the U.S. Open at Pine Needles [in 2007] when I ended up winning. I've also come from eight shots behind in an LPGA tournament to win. I think with my experience leading the way, to have the lead is the advantage."

Saturday at Saucon Valley was a little shorter but just as difficult and perhaps even more frustrating. The USGA shortened nine holes, taking 256 yards off the Old Course's length, but still cut hole locations on some bewildering property. Only two players - Teresa Lu and Eun Jee Ji - in the last 10 groups broke par. The results made Lorena Ochoa (73) throw a ball, Morgan Pressel (69) throw a club and Paula Creamer (79) nearly come to tears on the 10th green.

"It could be one of the hardest Open courses I've ever played," Kerr said, "and I'm loving the challenge."

Her playing partner wasn't so happy. Creamer struggled to a 3-over front nine, then took driver at the shortened par-4 10th, which played just 253 yards. By pulling her tee shot into a left bunker, Creamer touched off a cruel stretch in which she bladed her bunker shot over the green (nearly hitting a TV tower), fluffed three chips and missed a 15-footer for double bogey. Creamer appeared near tears before tapping in for the triple that likely took her out of contention.

"I'm not sure what happened there," Creamer said. "Just kind of felt like one shot after another seven times."

Kerr, meanwhile, hit 5-iron off the 10th tee and a lob wedge to the green.

"How many birdie chances are you going to get with a lob wedge at an Open?" she asked. Though miffed about missing the putt, Kerr was content with her instincts.

"As the temptation is to want to make more birdies, I've said to myself it's equally important, if not more important, to eliminate mistakes this week," Kerr said. "I think I've done that."

If anyone else has, it's Ji, a 23-year-old from South Korea playing in her second Women's Open. Ji is one of two players at even par after fairways-and-greens rounds of 71-72-70. She leads the field in greens in regulation (hitting 74.1 percent) and, with some more efficient lag putting, probably would be under par. Ji has four three-putts through three rounds.

Jean Reynolds, the 24-year-old Futures Tour pro from Georgia, continued her upbeat tour of Saucon, which has won her plenty of fans. With pars at the final two holes, Reynolds would have produced a curious final pairing with Kerr: Neither played college golf. Kerr turned pro after high school in 1997, and Reynolds packed away the clubs to enjoy her five years at the University of Georgia.

"I'm having a blast here this week, so I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow," Reynolds said. "I just don't feel like I've got anything to lose."

Still, Reynolds and Ji will be chasing, along with three others within five shots of Kerr. No easy feat.

"To me, it feels great," Kerr said. "I'm not nervous. I feel calm. I know what I have to do tomorrow, and I'm just going to go out and do it."

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