REUNION, Fla. (AP) — For three days, Lorena Ochoa and Laura Davies have matched each other shot for shot at the Ginn Open, finishing every round knotted atop the leaderboard.
On Sunday, if Ochoa can pull away, she’ll take home more than the $390,000 first prize.
The reigning LPGA player of the year shot a 2-under 70 on Saturday, remaining tied for the lead with Davies at 14 under through three rounds of the Ginn Open. Both birdied the final hole to move four shots ahead of Brittany Lincicome (67) and Natalie Gulbis (71).
If Ochoa gets the win, the 25-year-old Mexican star will pass Annika Sorenstam — who withdrew from the Ginn because of ruptured and bulging disks in her back, problems that will keep her sidelined for at least a few weeks — as the world’s top-ranked player.
“It’s something I would love to achieve,” Ochoa said. “But I think it’s more important to focus on the tournament, focus on my day, do my own thing, make sure I’m patient and just playing smart golf. And then everything will come with a good day tomorrow.”
Any other finish will keep Ochoa at No. 2 when the new list comes out Monday.
Sorenstam has been considered the best player in women’s golf for several years, but the official ranking system has only been out since February 2006. She had a huge lead when the first list came out, but Ochoa has won seven times since to close the gap.
“She’s the best player on form at the moment,” Davies said. “I think even Annika would admit that. Tomorrow’s not going to be easy.”
Ochoa and Davies flip-flopped on the lead throughout a 90-degree afternoon. Davies was flawless on the front side, using three birdies to build a one-shot lead at the turn, then faltered on the back and temporarily gave Ochoa the upper hand.
Davies, who made two bogeys in her first 48 holes, took a double-bogey at the par-4 13th — giving Ochoa a two-shot lead. After tapping in for par there, Ochoa walked off the green smiling and twirling her putter like a baton.
Then, though, it was Ochoa’s turn to blink.
Bogeys at the 14th and 16th holes, combined with Davies making birdie at the par-5 17th, knotted them atop the leaderboard again, and they stayed there when both made short birdie putts at the 18th.
“I played very consistent all day,” Ochoa said. “I’m very happy.”
There were a few Mexican flags waving in the galleries on Saturday, as is usually the case when Ochoa plays. She’s said many times that she plays golf for those people, hoping her success can inspire kids to follow in her footsteps.
And while she’s downplaying the rankings issue, other players know how much it’d mean to Ochoa.
“That’s all she wants to do,” Lincicome said. “She practices, she wants to be No. 1, and she does it for her country. She’s got a lot to represent.”
Se Ri Pak (a bogey-free 68) is alone in fifth at 9 under, while Nicole Castrale (69) is another stroke back. Defending champion Mi Hyun Kim struggled, shooting 73 to fall into a tie for ninth, eight shots off the lead.
Lincicome — the winner of last season’s World Match Play championship — started the day seven shots back, but used five birdies and an eagle to make a move and earn a spot in Sunday’s final threesome with Davies and Ochoa.
“I’ve just got to go out and do the same thing I did today and Thursday,” Lincicome said. “Hopefully the putter stays hot and I give myself a couple eagle chances. That’s always fun.”
Based on the way the first three days have gone, she’ll need them to catch the leaders.
Davies hasn’t won an LPGA event in nearly six years. Ochoa hasn’t won one in nearly three weeks. Yet here they are, tied entering the final round, one player who was the best in the women’s game once and another on the cusp of officially wearing that crown.
“I fully expect not feeling too well on the first tee tomorrow,” Davies said. “But that’s what makes it fun.”
Divots: Birdie Kim and Karrie Webb both shot 66s, the day’s best rounds. … Dakoda Dowd, who made headlines by playing last year’s Ginn as a 13-year-old and realizing her cancer-stricken mother’s wish, was at the course Saturday. … Ochoa has yet to make par on the par-5 third hole. She made birdie there Thursday, took a double-bogey Friday and made another bogey Saturday. She’s 2-over on that hole this week, while Davies is 5-under at the third, with two eagles and a birdie Saturday.