KRAFT NABISCO CHAMPIONSHIP
Michelle Wie remained in contention despite a 1-over 73 yesterday, finishing the third round three strokes off the pace.
Wie struggles, but closes in on lead
The Hawaii teen has trouble hitting greens and fairways, but cuts Ochoa's lead to three
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. » Michelle Wie spent most of yesterday's third round of the $1.8 million Kraft Nabisco Championship outside the ropes.
Kraft Nabisco Championship
» Lorena Ochoa-9
» Michelle Wie-6
» Three tied at-4
Today: KGMB, 9 a.m.
Spraying her drives like a sprinkler gone wild and hitting several of her approaches everywhere but on the green, the 16-year-old Punahou School junior was poised to drop down the leaderboard and into oblivion.
Instead, she righted the ship midway through the back nine to shoot a 1-over-par 73 and remain in second place behind Lorena Ochoa entering today's final round of the LPGA Tour's first major championship of 2006.
"It was a bad break kind of day," said Wie, who landed only 50 percent of her shots in the fairway and is only 2 under on the par 5s after three rounds. "It was like 2 feet from being perfect every hole -- kind of 2 feet long, 2 feet left, 2 feet right. My game still feels very solid right now and I'm ready for tomorrow.
"That bogey putt (from 18 feet at No. 13) was very important. It was very important for me to make that putt and I'm very glad I did. That helped me a lot with momentum, birdieing the next hole (her only one of the day) and makes me feel very good about my round -- kind of."
Despite Wie's problems, Ochoa holds only a three-shot advantage after struggling to a 2-over 74. She is 9-under 207 for the tournament and is one of 10 golfers in the red after 54 holes. Wie is in at 6-under 210 as only three women landed in the 60s during yesterday's third round that was played in ideal conditions.
Natalie Gulbis shared the best round of the day at 4-under 68 and will join Wie and Ochoa in today's final group. Gulbis is tied for third at 4-under 212 with South Korea's Shi Hyun Ahn (71) and Seon Hwa Lee (74). Local golf fans will remember Lee losing in a playoff with Ochoa and eventual winner Joo Mi Kim at the season-opening SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
At one point yesterday, Lee moved into second place at 7 under for the tournament, but bogeyed three of the final six holes to drop into a tie for third. Helen Alfredsson (72) and Karrie Webb (76) are tied for sixth at 2-under 214. Hee Won Han (68), Morgan Pressel (70) and Karen Stupples are tied for eighth at 1-under 215 for the event.
Michelle Wie pointed to her ball as it headed into the right rough on the second hole.
One of these 10 young women will likely land in Champions Lake as the winner of this tournament celebrating its 35th anniversary. But which one is the real question mark, since only Webb and Alfredsson have won a major in that group. Both have won here before, with Alfredsson taking home the trophy in 1993 and Webb in 2000.
But because both are seven shots off the pace, it's likely one of these women's lives is going to change forever by winning their first major championship. Ochoa's 10-under 62 and Wie's 6-under 66 on Thursday have stood the test of the championship and are the key reasons they have remained in first and second, respectively.
The problem for that duo is their inability to close out a major on the final day. Ochoa already has won three times on tour, but has five runner-up finishes over the last year as well. Wie hasn't won anything since she was 13, but has put herself in position to capture a major a few times before, despite her young age.
She was tied for the lead at last year's U.S. Open, only to close with a disastrous 82 to wind up tied for 23rd. That has followed her around like a lost puppy. She was asked about that round several times in yesterday's interview session.
"I think I just tried to force things last year at the U.S. Open," Wie said. "That wasn't my day and I just tried to make things happen. So tomorrow, I'm just going to try to just play calmly, find my best, take what happens -- and that's the most important thing, fairways and greens. I think it was very good that I played in the final group today."
Ochoa played in relative obscurity the first two rounds, but all that changed when Wie joined her threesome. The gallery following them often swelled to 2,000 or more as they tried to catch a glimpse of the Honolulu phenom.
"There was a lot of pressure and adrenaline playing in the last group with Michelle, that was exciting," Ochoa said. "I'm happy with the way I finished. I still have a three-shot lead and this course was very hard in the afternoon.
"I'm going to go out tomorrow and my goal is to have a lot of patience out there. I think when you're playing a major and when you are trying to win a tournament, things are going to happen, especially on this course. You can have a bogey out there. It's kind of like be patient, accept whatever happens and be really focused."
Gulbis -- who like Ochoa and Wie has put herself in position to win, but hasn't been able to get it done -- believes patience will be the key today as well.
"Lorena is a phenomenal player," Gulbis said. "As far ahead as she is, all you can do is go out and hit a lot of fairways. She hits the ball very well. All I can worry about is that first tee shot, trying to hit that first fairway."
Wie echoed those sentiments.
"I think that if I'm destined to win, it's going to happen," Wie said. "If I'm not, I'm not. I mean, I'm just going to not really force things. I'm just going to try my hardest. It might seem like I'm forcing something, but I'm just going to try to play along and see what happens and just play my hardest tomorrow."