MORELIA, Mexico (AP) — Ai Miyazato handled the gusting, canyon-blown wind better than her two long-hitting playing partners.
Miyazato moved into position for her third victory of the season, shooting a 2-under 71 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead over Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome in the Tres Marias Championship.
“I like to play in the wind because I grew up in a windy place,” said Miyazato, raised in the small village of Higashison on the Japanese island of Okinawa. “It’s still tough playing in the wind for me, but I have a good image in my head even if I am playing in tough, windy conditions.”
The winner of the season-opening events in Thailand and Singapore, Miyazato had a 13-under 206 total at Tres Marias Country Club.
Wie, a stroke ahead after two rounds, shot a 73, and Lincicome had a 72 on the mountainside course. Wie won her lone LPGA Tour title 5 1/2 months ago in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Ochoa’s hometown of Guadalajara.
Ochoa, the top-ranked star retiring after the tournament to raise a family and work on her charity foundation, was sixth at 10 under after a 70. She has won the tournament three times in the last four seasons, finishing at 25 under the last two years.
Miyazato, far shorter off the tee than Wie and Lincicome, used her control and accuracy to play more consistently. All players battled the 6,500-foot altitude, where the ball travels about 10 percent farther.”
“Honestly, I thought some holes were not fair because they (Wie and Lincicome) hit too long,” Miyazato said, drawing a laugh. “But I have confidence with my short game and my putting is really comfortable right now.”
Lincicome said she has learned she cannot beat Miyazato simply with booming drives.
“She is going to hit her 3-wood closer than my pitching wedge every time,” Lincicome said. “With her putter, if she gets it going there’s no stopping her. Thursday proved that.”
The Japanese star opened Thurday with a 63, her best career score against par.
Miyazato fell four strokes behind Wie after five holes, but patiently worked her way back with birdies on Nos. 6 and 7. She also birdied 12, dropped a shot on 15, but birdied 16 and closed with two pars on the two tough finishing holes.
“That definitley got me going,” Miyazato said of the back-to-back birdies. “I thought the par 5s were very difficult today so it helped me that I was able to make birdies on those par 4s.”
Wie bogeyed two of the last four holes after closing with two bogeys Friday.
Wie’s 73 was by far her worst score, following opening rounds of 66 and 68.
“It was a bit of a struggle today,” she said. “I didn’t really hit the ball as well as I wanted to, never putted the way I wanted to, but I’ll hopefully straighten things out for tomorrow. … I just didn’t feel comfortable out there today.”
Ochoa will be boosted by thousands of Mexican fans expected on Sunday.
“The only thing I wanted to do was to enjoy every moment and give myself a chance on Sunday,” Ochoa said. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s second place, fourth place, first place. Nobody is going to take this week away.”
Ochoa said she’s cried each day of the tournament, and expected more tears Sunday as she says farewell.
“Not in a sad way, but I know I am not coming back, so it’s a hard feeling.”
Ochoa took the No. 1 ranking just over three years ago – April 23, 2007 – from Annika Sorenstam. According to the tour’s unofficial calculations, she needs to finish at least fourth to be guaranteed of holding the ranking for at least one more week.
A finish below that could open the door for No. 2 Jiyai Shin and No. 5 Miyazato.
Shin is playing an event this weekend in Japan, and could move to the top of the rankings by winning there, provided Ochoa finishes fifth or lower. Miyazato could also do it if she wins the Tres Marias title and Ochoa finishes 10th or worse.