RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) – Lorena Ochoa had No. 1 in her sights until putting a 7 on her scorecard.
In a series of blunders that closed out a day of survival Saturday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, none was more shocking than the 25-year-old Mexican star suffering another meltdown in a major.
She was one shot out of the lead, still poised to capture her first major and take over the No. 1 ranking. Seven shots later, Ochoa was not even in the top 10 on a leaderboard that suddenly was loaded with possibilities.
“I’m human,” she said.
Ochoa clipped a tree and whiffed a flop shot on her way to a quadruple bogey on the 17th, leaving Se Ri Pak a grand opportunity to become the seventh woman to complete the career Grand Slam.
Pak make her share of mistakes, too, but finished off her third round with a 35-foot birdie putt that fell into the cup on its final turn for a 2-under 70, giving her a share of the lead with Suzann Pettersen of Norway. Pettersen made only one bogey and chipped to tap-in range on the 18th for a birdie and a 71.
They were at 4-under 212 after a grueling round in the sun that lasted more than five hours.
One shot behind was Meaghan Francella, who wasn’t even in this tournament until beating Annika Sorenstam in a playoff three weeks ago in Mexico, and had not played the Dinah Shore course since Q-school three years ago. She shot 69.
Paula Creamer had a chance to take her first outright lead in a major when she stood in the 18th fairway with a wedge in hand. But she went long, three-putted from the fringe for bogey and wound up with a 73 to join Francella, losing a spot in the final group.
Shi Hyun Ahn was among five players in the lead at one point until a pair of double bogeys sent her to a 74 and in the group at 1-under 215, which included big-hitting Brittany Lincicome, who made eagle on the 18th for a 71.
When a wild day in the desert finally came to a close, the Kraft Nabisco was up for grabs.
It was a little too wild for Ochoa.
She was 3 under and one shot behind on the 17th when her 6-iron clipped a tree and her pitch to a back left pin went long into grass so deep she could barely see the ball. Trying to hit a flop shot, the club slid under the ball without moving it. Her fourth shot ran down the ridge some 45 feet away. Three putts later she had a 7 on her card and was no longer in the top 10.
Ochoa wound up with a 77 and was five shots behind.
“I was one behind, and suddenly I’m way back,” Ochoa said in clipped answers, still seething over her bad fortune. “I’m OK. I’m happy to be here for tomorrow. I’m glad I’ll be playing behind now. I have nothing to lose. Hopefully, I’ll put pressure on the leaders.”
There was plenty of pressure in the third round, most of that coming from a baked course at Mission Hills that put a high premium on keeping the ball in the short grass.
Pak, who has never finished higher than ninth in this major, got to 5 under with an approach that hit the flag and settled 2 feet away on the 13th to take the lead. Then came a couple of bogeys, electing to use putter from short of the green on the 15th, and flubbing a chip over a hump in the fringe on the 17th that came down on the wrong side of the ridge and made her work for bogey.
But she was all smiles leaving the 18th after her big birdie, and knows exactly what is at stake Sunday.
Pak will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame later this year, and would love nothing more than to have the career Grand Slam on her list of achievements when she gets there.
“You can’t really think of that out,” Pak said. “There’s just so much trouble out there. Even par is a good score.”
One advantage for Pak?
Of the top 15 players on the leaderboard, she is the only one to have captured a major.
“I don’t really have much pressure because I’ve been there a lot of times,” she said.
It will be a first for Pettersen, the feisty Norwegian who missed eighth months a few years ago with a back injury. She managed a relatively quiet round, picking up birdies on two par 5s, limiting her mistake to only the 13th hole when it took her four shots to reach the green during some adventures in the high grass.
The surprise was Francella, an unknown rookie until beating Sorenstam, who now has gone 28 holes without a bogey.
Sorenstam, meanwhile, turned into another face in the crowd. After her worst 36-hole start in a major since she was an amateur, the Swede teed off on the back nine, shot 71 and was 10 shots behind.
“When you’re teeing off on the 10th hole in a major, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a major anymore,” Sorenstam said. “I didn’t have a single butterfly today. It’s not like I’m out there focusing on the score, what it should be and what it is now.”
Creamer has never held a 54-hole lead or played in the final group at a major, and it was there for the taking when she had wedge into the par-5 18th. But she went long onto the fringe, blew her putt some 6 feet by the hole and took bogey.
“Dumb bogey,” she said. “Kind of wish I could go back and hit that wedge. Other than that, I’m one back, and tomorrow is definitely going to be a shootout for the winner.”
Indeed, there were 13 players separated by five shots going into the final round, and Ochoa is one of them. She also made a quadruple bogey on the final hole of the ’05 U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, duck-hooking her tee shot into the water.
If she looks back, it will only be to last year at Mission Hills, when Karrie Webb came from seven shots behind and won in a playoff.
“I’m waiting for something special tomorrow,” Ochoa said. “I’m going to make it a good story.”