BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Cristie Kerr is feeling a sense of calm only a former U.S. Women’s Open champion could understand.
Armed with the knowledge of what it takes to win the championship, the 2007 winner is set to make a push for another title.
Kerr scrambled for a 1-over 72 Saturday and pulled away from struggling playing partner Paula Creamer and built a two-shot lead over Eun Hee Ji of South Korea after three rounds of the Women’s Open.
Kerr was the only player with a sub-par score – 2-under 211 – after three rounds on the narrow fairways and speedy, undulating greens of Saucon Valley Country Club.
Now, Kerr, who won at Pine Needles in ’07, is in a position to claim her second title in three years. She’s looking forward to the fourth-round challenge and playing in the lead.
“There really isn’t a better place for me,” the 12-time LPGA Tour winner said after two birdies and three bogeys. “I love this golf course.
“I feel good. I’m sure there’s going to be some nerves in the morning. But I’ve been there. I know I can handle it.”
Futures Tour player Jean Reynolds is an unlikely challenger for the title despite two wins in the developmental tour this year.
The 24-year-old from Georgia started two strokes back and was one off the lead before stumbling down the stretch. She closed with a bogey at the 15th and back-to-back bogeys at 17 and 18 on the way to a 3-over 74. She’s tied for third at 2-over 215 with Teresa Lu of Taiwan, who had a 1-under 70.
Reynolds is anxious to make a run at the title in just her second Open.
“I love being in the hunt on Sunday,” the Futures Tour leading money winner this season said. “I just enjoy having the chance to win … and if I stumble, I try not to let it get to me.”
South Korea’s In-Kyung Kim (72) and Hee Young Park (72), and Taiwan’s Candie Kung (3-under 68) are tied for fifth at 3-over 216. Brittany Lincicome had a 2-over 73, Suzann Pettersen had a 1-over 72 and Kyeong Bae of South Korea had a 2-under 69 and are tied for eighth at 4-over 217
The wind was blowing at the Old Course in the Lehigh Valley, drying out the putting surfaces and adding speed to the testy, undulating greens.
A handful of players took advantage of the USGA’s move to shorten the distance of a number of holes to raise the risk-reward factor.
The 23-year-old Ji took advantage. She offset three bogeys with four birdies for a 1-under 70 and even-par 213 total to earn a spot in the final group with Kerr on Sunday in just her second Open.
Ji got excited every time she saw her score posted.
“Every time I looked up at the leaderboard and see my name up there, it kind of gives me the excitement,” Ji said through an interpreter. “It makes me a little nervous, but in a good way where you can maybe compete a little harder.”
Others weren’t so lucky, namely Paula Creamer.
Creamer paired with second-round leader Kerr on Saturday, but fell from contention quickly. She had three bogeys on the front nine, a triple-bogey at 10 and a bogey at 11. She’s at 6-over 219 after an 8-over 79.
Creamer tried to get back into contention at No. 10, where the USGA used a front tee to make a drivable par-4. She took a chance, drove into a bunker, blasted over the green, then chipped short on the way to a triple-bogey 7.
The 22-year-old knows she missed an opportunity to make a run at her first major title.
“It was unfortunate. I just didn’t have anything really going,” she said.
Kerr has said all week that she knows what it takes to win the national championship, especially after winning at Pine Needles in 2007.
The 12-time LPGA Tour winner has played the first three rounds with patience, never getting too aggressive. That plan seems to be working.
“I still have to play strategically smart, which is what I’ve done the last four days,” she said.
Kerr and Creamer bogeyed the second hole, falling to 2 under and 1 under, respectively.
Kerr pushed her lead to two strokes with a birdie at the par-3 fourth and led by three after Creamer made bogey at the sixth. The lead reached four after the 22-year-old made bogey at the eighth.
Kerr had her lead shrink to a stroke over Reynolds after bogeying the ninth, but she managed to steady herself and play the back nine in even-par, including a birdie and a bogey.
Reynolds hung within a stroke of Kerr until her 15th hole, when she hit over the green and had a three-putt bogey. The consecutive bogeys to finish the round ended any chance Reynolds had of making the final group in the final round.
The focus Saturday was strictly on golf after a turbulent week during which the championship was overshadowed by a dispute between LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens and more than a dozen top tour players who signed a letter calling for her resignation.
The New York Times, citing a source, has reported that Bivens has decided to step down after the Open concludes. Golf Digest had previously reported that Bivens would be replaced, as soon as next week, and cited sources who said the letter from the players was the final blow.