CLIFTON, N.J. (AP) — Sarah Lee went shot for shot with defending champion Lorena Ochoa and got the best of the No. 1 player in women’s golf.
She will have to do it one more time, though, to win her first LPGA Tour title.
Lee shot a near-flawless 7-under 65 on Saturday to open a two-shot lead over Ochoa after three rounds in the $1.4 million Sybase Classic, a tournament that has been seemingly been reduced to two-player race.
“I’m really excited to play with Lorena Ochoa,” said the 28-year-old Lee, whose previous best finish was a second in 2004. “She’s the No. 1 LPGA player and I really enjoyed it today.”
No one else is even close to the leaders.
Lee, who has either led or shared the lead for the first two rounds, had a 16-under 200 total, the low 54-hole score on the tour this year. Ochoa was 14 under after her second straight 67 at the Upper Montclair Country Club. It was seven more shots back to Sherri Steinhauer, Kate Golden and Young Jo.
“It was fun to be out there,” said Ochoa, looking for her first win since supplanting Annika Sorenstam for the top spot in the rankings last month. “At the start she was hitting closer and making birdies, and then I hit it closer and made birdie. It was fun to be in that last group.”
Playing in the final threesome, Lee and Ochoa quickly distanced themselves from the field on a cold, cloudy, rainy afternoon that felt more like early April than May.
“I know it is going to take a low round to win the tournament because she is a great player, the 25-year-old Mexican star said of Lee.
Tied at 9 under, Lee birdied four of her first six holes and lost ground. Ochoa one-upped her with three birdies and an 8-foot eagle putt at the par-5 fifth hole.
Lee, who led for the opening 36 holes in last week’s Michelob Ultra Open in Virginia, eventually took the lead for good with 4-foot birdie putt at No. 10 and a two-putt birdie from 24 feet on the par-5 11th.
When Ochoa, the winner last year at Wykagyl in Rochelle, N.Y., birdied the 13th from 10 feet to seemingly cut the lead to a stroke, Lee answered with a 7-footer.
“It was really fun,” Lee said. “I really enjoyed it. She made a birdie. I made a birdie.”
Ochoa fell three shots behind after hitting a tee shot into the bunker on the par-3, 15th hole, but Lee made her only costly mistake of the round when she missed the fairway to the right on the relatively straight 16th hole. She chipped to 7-feet while hitting from an awkward stance on the edge of a bunker, but she missed the 7-foot par-saver.