Stacy Lewis takes a three shot lead into weekend of Kraft Nabisco golf tournament

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Stacy Lewis

Stacy Lewis

In the three years since Stacy Lewis lost a third-round lead at the U.S. Women’s Open in her first pro tournament, she traveled the globe, opened her mind and thoroughly revamped her game.

A few bad iron shots and a little desert heat just aren’t such challenges any more.

Lewis persevered through more triple-digit temperatures to shoot a 3-under 69 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Friday, opening a three-stroke lead over Yani Tseng, Brittany Lincicome and Jane Park.

Michelle Wie shot a 67, matching the day’s best round and closing within six shots in contention for her first major title. Tseng, the defending champion and the world’s top-ranked player, shot a 68, while first-round co-leader Lincicome mustered a 72 to stay one stroke ahead of Morgan Pressel and Amy Yang.

The leaders all managed to thrive on dry, speedy greens during a second windless day at Mission Hills, with the temperature topping 100 degrees by midday.

But Lewis pulled ahead at 9-under par after several big putts during the second round, smoothly reaching the halfway point of the LPGA Tour’s first major in strong position to chase her first victory during what’s expected to be a cooler weekend.

“My round was all over the place,” said Lewis, who shared the first-round lead. “But I made some really good up-and-downs and stayed really patient on the back nine, and I was fortunate to get away with a couple of pars that I probably shouldn’t have.”

Big things were expected from Lewis after she burst onto the tour with a third-place finish behind Inbee Park at Interlachen in 2008, nearly becoming the first player to win a major in her professional debut.

Although she’s now a solid pro, finishing 21st on last season’s money list, she hasn’t won. She’s still enduring the maturation of any player coming out of college — finding a swing guru, figuring out the hectic travel schedule and mentally managing through weeks away from home, sometimes on the opposite side of the globe from her home in Texas.

“I just feel like I have a really good group of people around me now,” Lewis said.

That group sometimes includes Lincicome, her road roommate and good friend. It also includes Betsy King, who accompanied Lewis on a trip to Africa with Lewis’ mother.

Her experience in Rwanda, meeting families in a daily struggle for water and survival, affected her just as much as her ongoing charity work with dozens of young people with scoliosis, the same spinal affliction she overcame.

“I saw things (in Rwanda) I never thought I’d see in my life,” Lewis said. “It was such a shock to me that people live the way that they do, but they are so happy and so grateful. It just makes me grateful for everything that I have, and it gave me a renewed purpose of what I’m doing out here. The better I play golf, the more I can help other people, the more I can inspire other people.”

Lewis had to be resourceful from the opening holes Friday. She made tough putts on three straight holes before putting her tee shot on the nine behind a tree. She saved herself with a 200-yard hybrid shot and an up-and-down par before finishing strong with a bogey-free back nine.

Lewis and Wie memorably went to the same LPGA Q-school in December 2008. While Wie’s presence got all the headlines, Lewis had the five-round event’s best score.

Wie was 2 over in Thursday’s first round, but she rallied impressively Friday morning after a horrible start.

Her first tee shot flew into the gallery and beaned a little girl, who needed attention from paramedics. Wie couldn’t stick around to see how she was doing.

“I never felt so horrible about a shot ever,” said Wie, who has drilled a few spectators in her day with a sometimes-erratic approach from the tee. “I felt so horrible about hitting that poor little girl. … I thought I had hit a sprinkler or a tree or something. The little girl was the last thing on my mind, but hopefully she’s OK.”

Park played her way into the Kraft Nabisco field with a top-30 finish at last week’s Kia Classic. The Los Angeles-area native, who missed the 2009 season with a back injury, excelled on the dry, fast greens of Mission Hills, which she first played when she was 16.

“The first time I played here, the golf course is just so visually intimidating,” Park said. “Now, it still looks intimidating, but I’m not really afraid of the golf course, which is what was running through my mind as a kid.”

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Lincicome and Lewis share first round of Kraft Nabisco Championship

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Brittany Linicome at Nabisco Tournament

Brittany Linicome at Nabisco Tournament

Lincicome and Stacy Lewis are splitting more than dinner checks and lodging bills at the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year.

The fast friends and occasional road roommates overcame the stifling desert heat to shoot 6-under 66s Thursday, sharing the first-round lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Sandra Gal and Mika Miyazato were one shot back, while world No. 1 Yani Tseng was in a group in 10th place at 2 under.

Despite playing in the hotter part of an unseasonably scorching day, Lincicome and Lewis handled the fast, dry Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills with similar aplomb after temperatures topped 90 degrees by midday in the Palm Springs area. Their caddies were given permission to take off their jumpsuits when it rose above 100 during the afternoon rounds.

Although they aren’t rooming together this week because their parents made the trip, they went to dinner together Wednesday night and chatted with Rosie Jones before making identically excellent starts.

“Stacy has been a great friend for a little while now,” Lincicome said. “If we don’t want our fathers or mothers to go to a tournament, we’ll stay together, but she’s just a really nice girl. We’re kind of the same age, very low-maintenance for both of us, so it’s very easy-going.”

Lincicome’s win at the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship is the three-time tour winner’s only victory in nearly four years, while Lewis is still looking for her first official win on tour. Lincicome is off to a remarakbly consistent start this season, while Lewis is hoping to harness her increased strength for better results.

The heat is supposed to break on the weekend, but Lincicome and Lewis both worried about the damage.

“Being a course that I love and I love to play, I’d hate for them to lose the greens,” Lincicome said. “Especially No. 1, and there was one other green turning brown, even — or purple, which can’t be good.”

Lewis made three straight birdies on the back nine immediately after her only bogey, hitting consecutive exceptional iron shots.

Lewis has significantly improved her distance over the past year, adding 25 yards to her drives with help from strength training and swing coaching. After bouncing back from surgery to correct her scoliosis during college, Lewis is hoping her play can be an inspiration to others with spinal woes, including a group of young girls she visited during the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix two weeks ago.

“I really don’t mind the heat at all,” Lewis said. “I’d rather have hot and humid heat than dry heat, but I grew up in Texas during the summers, so I’m used to playing when it’s over 100 degrees. I say bring it, because the ball goes a mile, so I like it.”

Gal chipped in from 15 yards on her fourth hole and hung on for another solid opening round with strong putting. The lanky German earned her first career victory at last week’s Kia Classic, played in chilly conditions outside Los Angeles.

“With your first win, you still don’t know what to expect coming into the next week,” Gal said. “All the people that came to me and all the congrats from everyone, which I really appreciate, it was a lot. So I probably didn’t prepare as well as I would for a major championship normally.”

Karrie Webb shot a 69, while Morgan Pressel joined Tseng at 70. Tseng was partnered with Gal.

“So hot today,” Tseng said. There’s no wind. I had an umbrella out there.”

Michelle Wie felt grateful to escape with an opening-round 74, making three bogeys in her quest for her first major title.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Wie said. “I did a lot of damage control today, so hopefully tomorrow I’ll do a lot better.”

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Sandra Gal takes win at Kia Classic to become the second German winner in LPGA Tour history

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Sandra Gal

Sandra Gal

Sandra Gal won the Kia Classic on Sunday to become the second German winner in LPGA Tour history, beating second-ranked Jiyai Shin with a 2-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

The 25-year-old Gal, a former University of Florida player, made the winning putt after Shin’s 5-foot birdie attempt caught the right edge and spun out.

“It was big pressure, she was so close to the hole,” Shin said. “I was thinking I had to make it.”

Gal closed with a 2-under 71 to finish at 16-under 276 on the Industry Hills Golf Club course at Pacific Palms. She set up the winning birdie with a sand wedge shot from 83 yards on the par-5 18th.

“I was trying to hole it,” Gal said. “I came close. I thought I made it.”

Tina Fischer is the only other Germany champion. She won the 2001 Asahi Ryokuken International.

“I had the belief coming out this morning that I could win,” Gal said. “I thought I could do it. I just tried to play the course instead of Jiyai.”

Shin, an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour, finished with a 73.

Cristie Kerr shot a 66 to tie for third with In-kyung Kim (70) at 11 under.

Top-ranked Yani Tseng (67) and Na Yeon Choi (73) were 9 under, and Michelle Wie (70) was another stroke back along with Marcy Hart (65) and Mindy Kim (71).

“I felt like I shot a lot better than what I scored,” Wie said. “Overall, I had a lot of fun. I played as hard as I can.”

Shin took a one-stroke lead over Gal into the final round, but dropped two strokes back with three bogeys on the front nine. The South Korean star pulled even on the par-3 13th, making a birdie while Gal had her lone bogey of the day.

“My putter was not working good,” Shin said. “I had a lot of chances for birdies but didn’t make them.”

Shin took a one-stroke lead with a birdie on the par-3 15th, and Gal countered with a birdie on the par-4 16th to set up the finish. On 18, Gal’s wedge shot hit past the hole and spun back, nearly going in the hole.

“I was digging really deep,” Gal said.

Gal earned $255,000 in the tournament, the tour’s first event in the Los Angeles area in six years.

The Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season, is next week at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage.

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Jiyai Shin shoots bogey free 64 to lead Kia Classic by four shots

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Jiyai Shin

Jiyai Shin

Second-ranked Jiyai Shin shot a bogey-free 9-under 64, birdieing nine of the first 14 holes, to take a four-stroke lead Friday in the rain-delayed Kia Classic.

“I jumped on the birdie bus,” Shin said.

The South Korean star, an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour, had a 12-under 134 total on the Industry Hills Golf Club course at Pacific Palms. Seventy-two players, all of the afternoon starters, were unable to finish the round after rain delayed the start three hours.

“I think I’m really lucky to finish,” Shin said. “I played very well, so I’ll take a good rest.”

Germany’s Sandra Gal was second at 8 under with nine holes left when play was suspended for the day because of darkness. Amanda Blumenherst, the first-round leader, and Chella Choi were third at 6 under. Blumenherst had nine holes remaining, while Choi shot a 68.

“Because of the rain delay this morning, I was a little tired,” Choi said. “But it actually gave me more time to prepare and warm up, and things went well from there.”

Michelle Wie, returning to the tour after finishing finals at Stanford, followed an opening 68 with a 75 to drop nine strokes behind Shin at 3 under. Wie bogeyed three of her final four holes.

“Just kind of didn’t get a couple of holes going,” Wie said. “Just kind of mis-hit a couple of shots and missed a couple putts and I guess that’s the difference it makes. … You have to be on the right side of the fairway, because there are trees blocking out half of the green, so it’s really about management.”

Shin, trying to regain the top spot in the world from Yani Tseng, missed only one fairway and one green in regulation and finished with 25 putts. She made four birdie putts from 12 feet or longer.

“My goal was 3 under par, so I just kept thinking before the round to make a couple birdies and no bogeys,” Shin said. “I just kept focused for my shot. It was really easy, simple play.”

Blumenherst, a stroke ahead of Gal after the first round, was four shots behind when she started the second round late in the afternoon.

“I was not watching at all,” Blumenherst said. “I had no idea of what was going on. It’s just part of the game.”

Tseng, the winner of the season-opening Honda LPGA Thailand and three other worldwide events this year, was 2 under for the tournament with five holes left. Karrie Webb, coming off her second straight victory Sunday in Phoenix, was 2 over — also with five holes remaining in the round.

The tournament is the tour’s first in the Los Angeles area in six years. Last year at La Costa in Carlsbad, Hee Kyung Seo won her first LPGA Tour title, beating Inbee Park by six strokes. Seo was in position to miss the cut following rounds of 77 and 73.

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Tseng wins over Michelle Wie in Thailand

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Yani Tseng wins in Thailand

Yani Tseng wins in Thailand

Top-ranked Yani Tseng earned her third tournament win in three weeks Sunday, shooting a 6-under 66 to pull away for a comfortable five-shot victory over Michelle Wie in the Honda LPGA Thailand. The event served as the season opener on the 2011 LPGA Tour calendar.

Tseng led by one stroke over Wie and In-kyung Kim going into the final round and had the lowest score of the day with seven birdies and one bogey to finish at 15-under 273.

2011 HONDA LPGA THAILAND

The Honda LPGA Thailand is the season-opener on the 2011 LPGA Tour calendar.

Wie settled for a 70 to finish second, while Kim had a 71 was another stroke back in a tie for third with Karrie Webb, who shot a 69. Paula Creamer was fifth at 8 under after a 71.

Tseng took over the No. 1 ranking after winning back-to-back Ladies European Tour events, the Women’s Australian Open two weeks ago and then the Australian Ladies Masters last weekend.

“I just tried my best and I know I had lots of confidence,” Tseng said about winning three weeks in a row. “But with all the great golfers out here, you never know until the last putt drops in.”

Kim birdied three of her first six holes to sit tied for the lead with Tseng, and was at 13 under after a birdie on the 13th. However, she made a quintuple bogey on the 17th to fall out of contention before finishing with a birdie to secure a tie for third.

Wie also put pressure on Tseng by chipping in for a birdie on the first hole and picking up two more shots on the sixth and seventh. But she didn’t make another birdie the rest of the way and was four shots behind Tseng when she bogeyed the 17th.

“I feel like I played good out there today, but on the back nine I just didn’t make anything,” Wie said. “Yani played fantastic. She played like a rock star out there. She made every single putt and zero mistakes. Congrats to her.”

Tseng will go for a fourth straight victory next week in Singapore.

“I have lots of confidence and I’m looking forward to next week to see if I can win,” she said. “I feel very excited every week. I just focused on this week. I think to myself, ‘Last week has passed, don’t put pressure on this week.’ Next week is a new week and I’ll enjoy it.”

AUSTRALIA’S SMITH WINS IN NEW ZEALAND: Also Sunday, Australia’s Kristie Smith shot a 4-under 68 to overtake Italy’s Giulia Sergas and win the New Zealand Women’s Open.

Smith finished with a 72-hole total of 12-under-par 276 to claim her first title on the Ladies European Tour. Smith, a former Australian amateur champion, turned professional in 2009 and won her first title last year on the Australian LPGA Tour.

“I am over the moon,” she said. “My goal this year was to win on the LET Tour and it’s nice to do it early. I think I will have to reassess my goals. They had been to finish in the top five on the LET money list and play well in the majors.”

Sergas, penalized a stroke after Saturday’s round for slow play, entered the final round with a four-stroke lead, but the Italian had two bogeys and a triple bogey on her first three holes to finish with a 76.

Sergas shared second place with American Tiffany Joh, a graduate student at UCLA who shot a 70 to move up five places in the final round Sunday.

Defending champion Laura Davies briefly led the standings Sunday before dropping back with a triple bogey on the fourth hole. She finished with a 77 and was eight strokes behind the winner.

Sergas entered the final round with a four-stroke lead, but had two bogeys and a triple bogey on her first three holes Sunday and shot a 76.

Sergas and American Tiffany Joh, a UCLA graduate student, tied for second. Joh posted a 2-under 70 in the final round.

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Solheim Cup Team Captain wraps up the year in review

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RosieJones

Rosie Jones

Being Captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup Team has proven to be very exciting this year as I made my final visit to the season ending LPGA Tour Championship in Orlando last week. Lots to catch up with the players and staff since this will be the last tournament of the year and players will be in off season mode for the next several weeks as they all enjoy the Holiday Season and then gear up for year 2011.

This was a good event for me to attend since all the top U.S. players were there looking to better their position in many category’s on the treacherous Grand Cypress layout just outside of Disney World. The weather turned to cool with windy conditions making the course very hard to score on with drastic greens proving hard to master. I have to brag a bit about how well our American players played, but the big congrats to Sweden’s Maria Hjorth for her great play to capture the title.

Player of the Year

It was fun to watch the top 5 players on tour battle it out those past weeks for Play of the Year award and Vare Trophy as the results all came down to the final round and to whether Cristie Kerr could pull off a win to capture both honors. After watching the top honor trade like baseball cards the past 3 months, the final congrats go to Yani Tseng. I guess we’ll have to wait another year to see if the POY award will come home to an American player as C. Kerr just missed out with a brave attempt finishing Tied for 3rd place finish.

Solheim Points

Lots of good golf and plenty of points being made, but not a lot of movement on the 2011 Solheim Cup point standings these past couple of weeks as the tour ends it’s year long plus qualifying. Cristie Kerr leads the American squad with 441 points with Morgan Pressel in second place at 239 and Michelle Wie in third at 223. Team USA has got a good strong line up of experienced players in the top 10 with a good mix of young players looking for their first experience of Solheim Competition and Veterans’ holding their own within the top 15 spots.

Even though I have been watching the points pretty closely these past several months, this is when the players themselves start to keep a keen eye on what is going on as well. I expect next year will be quite the shoot out as points are worth 1 ½ times during Solheim Cup year. Example: a Win is 60 points, double for Majors. This will favor hot play in 2011, and give a player the ability to make a pretty good move up the roster.

Captain RoJo Wins

One of the great things about being Captain is that even though it sometimes feels like a full time job, it still allows me the opportunity to be competitive on the Legends Tour (Official Senior Tour of the LPGA). Last month I teed it up with some great former players of the LPGA including past Captains Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley and current players on the LPGA tour like Michelle Redman and Lori Kane at the Legends Tour Championship on the Island Course at Innisbrook FL.

With a two day total of -9, I was hoisting the trophy for my first Major Win and my fourth title in 4 years as a senior player on the tour. It was a fun week and a good experience for me as all those competitive juices come back to me and keep me on my toes and in touch with what my Solheim Players are going through week in and week out.

Happy Holidays!

As the Holiday Season is in full swing this is the time players wind down from the busy Tour Life and the crazy travel schedule that can take its toll over the entire year. It’s a good time to relax and enjoy their life at home, revitalize the body, rest and balance out their time for family and friends. It won’t be long before the sticks come back out of the trunk and the grind starts back up with new goals and expectations.

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McDowell and Langer given yet another prestigeous honour for 2010

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McDowell

McDowell

Langer

Langer

Graeme McDowell, Yani Tseng and Bernhard Langer have been named 2010 Players of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America.

It is the first GWAA POY award for both all three players. They will be honored at the GWAA’s Annual Awards Dinner April 6, 2011 in Augusta, Ga.

In the closest race, McDowell received 43 percent of the votes (87 votes) for Male Player of the Year to 32 percent for Jim Furyk (61) and 25 percent for Martin Kaymer (51). Tseng received 69 percent of the vote (137 votes) for Female Player of the Year to 16 percent for Cristie Kerr (32) and Ai Miyazato had 15 percent (31). Langer received 94 percent of the vote (187 votes) for Player of the Year to six percent (13) for Fred Couples.

McDowell became the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years and his win at Pebble Beach was one of four for the Northern Irishman. He won the decisive match for Europe at the Ryder Cup and his fourth win was a come-from-behind playoff win over Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge.

McDowell also won the Golf Writers Trophy (a vote of the Association of Golf Writers) and shared European Tour Player of the Year honors with Kaymer. He is the second European to win Player of the Year in the last three years. Padraig Harrington won the honor in 2008

Tseng won two LPGA majors — the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Women’s British Open — in her three-win season. She had eight top-10 finishes, finished fourth on the money list and was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year.

Langer won back-to-back majors — Senior Open at Carnoustie and U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee — and won five times on the Champions Tour. He led the money list, captured the season-long Charles Schwab Cup and won his third consecutive Champions Tour Player of the Year honor.

The GWAA, founded in 1946, takes an active role in protecting the interests of all golf journalists, works closely with all of golf’s major governing bodies and the World Golf Hall of Fame.

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Maria Hjorth wins LPGA Tour Championship in rare fashion

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MariaHjorth

Maria Hjorth wins LPGA Tour Championship

So much for a frantic finish at the LPGA Tour Championship. Only one person moved up the ranks this week to take home a trophy.

That was just fine for Maria Hjorth.

With every major award in play for the first time in a decade, all it took was a final-round 72 for Hjorth to claim a one-shot victory over Amy Yang and hold off a huge field that struggled to even make par. None of the annual honors, including player of the year and the No. 1 ranking, changed hands in the season finale.

“It was obvious other players had way more pressure on them,” Hjorth said. “So I think in that regard, it might have been a little easier on me.”

Sure seemed that way.

Hjorth had three birdies and three bogeys on a picture-perfect day at Grand Cypress Golf Club, where only six of 120 players finished below par for the tournament. Yang, who led after each of the first three rounds, had a quadruple bogey on her third hole but rallied with a 74 to supply the only drama all week.

“I just thought, ‘Nothing more I can lose,’” Yang said.

She made a birdie putt on the 18th from about 15 feet over a ridge, forcing Hjorth to sink an 8-foot putt slightly down hill to save par. She did. Then Hjorth dropped her putter, lifted her arms in triumph and burst into tears as she went running to the ropes to grab her 1-year-old daughter, Emily.

“Every win is emotional for me,” said Hjorth, who earned her fourth victory on tour but first since becoming a mother. “But being a mother and coming back after giving birth is definitely something that I’ve been hoping for.

“It’s nice to prove that it’s possible.”

Hjorth finished at 5-under 283 for the tournament, the highest-winning score relative to par all year except for Paula Creamer’s 3-under victory in the U.S. Open at Oakmont. The firm and fluctuating greens at Grand Cypress played similar to the toughest major this week, and near-freezing conditions in the first two rounds only heightened the challenges.

That was just fine for those sitting at the top.

With Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam now retired, every major award was in play for the first time in a decade but the week still ended with a thud. Each player who began the tournament on top of the award standings stayed there:

–Yani Tseng became the first player from Taiwan to win LPGA player of the year.

–South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi won this year’s money title.

–Choi also claimed the Vare Trophy for the year’s lowest scoring average.

–Fellow South Korean Jiyai Shin, who missed the 54-hole cut and was the only one who could unseat Choi on the money list, will keep her spot atop the world ranking. She finished 12 over.

Cristie Kerr also was within striking distance to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim LPGA player of the year. But her final-round 73 left her at 2 under for the tournament, tied for third place.

“Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself,” Kerr said.

The final round would have only one shining star.

Hjorth was calm and cool on greens that frustrated so many in the field. She made huge putts to save par over and over, including a 10-footer on the 16th hole that gave her a two-shot cushion that proved big on the 18th.

And that was all she needed for her first LPGA victory since 2007.

“It was really amazing,” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed right now.”

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Will she be the first American in 16 years to win LPGA Tour Player of the Year?

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Cristie Kerr LPGA Tour Championship

Cristie Kerr was a high school teenager the last time an American woman accomplished what she has a chance to do Sunday.

Kerr is making a move to become the first American in 16 years to win LPGA Tour player of the year, trailing leader Amy Yang by three strokes entering the final round of the LPGA Tour Championship.

“Everybody can imagine how much it would mean to me and for American golf,” Kerr said.

Kerr shot a 1-under 71 for the third straight round Saturday to put her in a tight pack at Grand Cypress Golf Club where anybody under par is in contention. She was the only one to shoot below par in all three rounds.

Kerr, 33, needs nothing short of victory to unseat points leader Yani Tseng. All that might take is another solid round of golf to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim the LPGA’s most prestigious annual award.

“We also do need an American to win awards like player of the year and really start to bring the LPGA Tour back to the United States,” Kerr said.

There’s not many in her way.

Yang (73) has led all three rounds, Maria Hjorth (71) was one shot back of Yang and Seon Hwa Lee (73) was also tied with Kerr. Only five players were under par for the tournament.

“If you are under par, I still think there’s a chance,” Hjorth said.

This year’s season finale isn’t following the usual script.

For the first time in a decade, the player of the year award will be someone other than Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam now that both are retired. And since Ochoa bid farewell to the tour in May, the No. 1 ranking has shuffled nine times among three players — Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato and Kerr.

Five in the field had a chance to grab the honors — plus the Vare Trophy for the year’s lowest scoring average — when the tournament began, and now Kerr is in prime position to take them all. Anything under par might be good enough again for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion.

But only a victory would give Kerr enough to take player of the year honors from Tseng, who made the 54-hole cut on the number after shooting a 2-over 74 in the third round. Tseng is at 6 over for the tournament and doesn’t sound too confident of earning the award.

“I think Cristie is gonna be winning the tournament to take this title,” Tseng said.

That’s because the American has been by far the most consistent in the field. She had three birdies but only two bogeys Saturday on a course where cold conditions and have made firm and fluctuating greens even faster.

Although after near-freezing temperatures the first two days, a picturesque day in the mid-60s made conditions ripe for low scores.

But it didn’t happen.

Kerr saved par all day with big putts, including one from about 12 feet on the 17th hole to stay on the heels of the leaders. The tournament also had an additional cut after 54 holes to 34 players — the lowest 30 scores and ties — that gives Kerr and others near the top of the leaderboard an even better chance of holding off any major final-day pushes.

It also puts Kerr only 18 holes away from a monumental victory for American golf.

“I have to put the awards and all of those different things away and I just have to win (Sunday),” she said. “I have to win the day.”

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Will the temperature get the best of LPGA Tour Championship players?

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Amy Yang LPGA Tour Championship

About the only thing going low at the LPGA Tour Championship is the temperature.

Well, that and Amy Yang’s scorecard.

Yang shot a 3-under 69 in a safe and solid second round Friday, good enough to hold a three-shot lead when play was called for darkness. Only 10 of the 120 players in the field were under par.

“It is very surprising,” said Yang, who is going for her first LPGA Tour victory and has never led a round until this week.

Not that she’s complaining.

The lack of low scores in a bloated field that features the top players on tour made her score stick all day. Maria Hjorth (68) and Seon Hwa Lee (73) were three shots back, and world No. 1 Jiyai Shin (75) is projected to make the cut on the number to keep her chances of holding the ranking at season’s end alive.

The near-freezing conditions and a competitive course has tested players more than they could’ve imagined. And Yang has handled the challenge better them anyone.

The South Korean overcame a slow second-round start to finish with four birdies on the back nine, including a sizzling putt from about 20 feet on the 18th hole. She also did it with a tougher morning tee time, around 8:30 a.m., before things warmed up.

The temperature dipped into the upper 30s at dawn at Grand Cypress Golf Club to make firm and fluctuating greens even faster. The breeze ticked down a touch for the second round, but the topsy-turvy greens — which Laura Davies called “mental” a day earlier — were causing the most challenges.

“You really have to be patient out here, because you’re going to have some bad breaks,” Hjorth said.

The course has wreaked havoc even on the top players.

The LPGA’s player of the year award is wide open at the season-ending event for the first time in a decade, now that Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam are retired. Five in the field have a chance to grab the honor, and the top ranking is also in play.

Shin and Na Yeon Choi would be the first Korean to win the LPGA’s top honor. Cristie Kerr could become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim the award, Yani Tseng would be the first from Taiwan, and Ai Miyazato of Japan is also in contention.

Kerr (71) is five shots back, Choi (71) is seven off the lead, Tseng (73) is 11 back and Miyazato (71) is 14 off the pace. In other words, parody rules again at the top.

“I think it’s more interesting having more people up there,” Kerr said. “I would like to be the dominant Alpha female, but you have to work really hard for that.”

They don’t have much time left to make up ground.

The LPGA Tour Championship will cut to the lowest 70 scores and ties when the second round officially finishes early Saturday morning. And there will be an additional cut after 54 holes to the lowest 30 players and ties, making the margin for error even slimmer.

It also makes Yang’s grip on the lead feel even tighter.

Her last victory of any kind came in 2006, when she won the Australian Ladies Masters at only 16 years old. That made her the youngest amateur ever to win on the Ladies European Tour, and it seemed there would be more victories in her future.

Only they haven’t come.

“I was too young to know what winning a tournament meant,” she said. “After that, I had to finish high school. So there was a gap of time between that.”

Maybe not much longer.

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