WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Rarely spectacular but remarkable for her consistency, Annika Sorenstam shot her third consecutive nearly mistake-free round Saturday, and her 2-under 69 signaled that she may be ready to give Lorena Ochoa a run for No. 1 again.
The eight-time player of the year, plagued by injuries in a winless 2007, gave Ochoa and Jeong Jang up-close evidence that the maddeningly steady game that made her the top female player in the world for so long is coming back, and probably sooner rather than later.
Hitting fairways and greens consistently and scrambling when necessary with radar-like wedge play, Sorenstam stretched her bogey-free string to 53 holes before hooking her drive into the water on No. 18. Even then, she drove again, hit a 6-iron within 8 feet and made the putt, the bogey leaving her with a three-shot lead over Jang.
“I saved everything today,” Sorenstam said. “Even the last hole.”
Ochoa lost her putting stroke and fell back quickly. Her string of four bogeys in five holes ended just before Sorenstam made two long putts, both for birdie, to open an eight-shot lead over the woman who has taken her place at the top of the sport.
Ochoa holed a long birdie putt on the first hole and was 2 under through seven holes, but 5 over after that, finishing with a 74 to drop into a tie for 10th.
“I just didn’t have a good rhythm today, didn’t have good speed,” she said after walking off the 18th green and signing her card. “I’m not even going to think about it or try to work on it. I’m just going to go home and relax and get ready for tomorrow.”
It was almost as if Sorenstam was answering the whispers of those who felt compelled to note that her two victories this year came in events that Ochoa had not chosen to play.
On Sunday, the best female golfers in the world will again be chasing Sorenstam, who said she knows the road ahead is a long one ahead, but regaining the top ranking is a goal.
“I feel great how the season is shaping up, so we’ll see what happens,” she said.
Jang, who played in the final group with Sorenstam and Ochoa, shook off an aching wrist and a slow start for a 69 to be alone in second place. The final threesome of Sunday will also include Christina Kim, who was four back after a 66.
After watching Sorenstam for 18 holes, Jang thinks the Swede is past her struggles.
“I don’t think she’s going to be back,” Jang said, dismissing the idea that Sorenstam, a 71-time winner, might come back to the pack on Sunday. “I think she’s almost there.”
Kim, meanwhile, has won twice in her career, and said the key for her on Sunday will be in paying more attention to her own game and less to the other players in her group.
“I’m just chasing myself right now,” she said.
Maria Hjorth was alone in fourth, six shots back, after a 66, and five players were tied for fifth another shot off the pace.