Wright, Kerr sprint ahead at Michelob

Lindsey Wright of Australia stands on the 17th green during the third round of the Michelob Ultra Open.

Lindsey Wright of Australia stands on the 17th green during the third round of the Michelob Ultra Open.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Lindsey Wright can’t remember the last time she played in the final grouping in a golf tournament, but she sounds eager to tackle the challenge.

“Absolutely,” she said, when asked if she’s ready for her first victory. “Bring it on.”

The sixth-year pro from Australia shot a 7-under 64 Saturday and will start the final round of the Michelob Ultra Open tied for the lead with Cristie Kerr, an 11-time winner.

Kerr hopes to spend her day practicing the Zen-based mental process that she said has served her well since she adopted it last year, but also knows what Wright will confront.

“She’ll have to deal with her internal self and voices and whatever else is going on, just like we all do,” Kerr said after finishing strong while top-ranked Lorena Ochoa faltered.

Ochoa shot 74 with only two birdies, which were canceled out by a double bogey at the par-4 14th. She started the day leading by three and now is five behind.

“I don’t know what happened,” Ochoa said. “I didn’t hit the ball bad. I lipped out maybe four putts today. A couple of them were about six feet, so I was a little frustrated.”

If Wright encountered those doubting voices, she hid it well Saturday. With three straight rounds in the 60s, she’s exceeded her total for the first 22 rounds of the year. She came within one shot of the course record, and has one bogey in the first 54 holes at Kingsmill.

She and Kerr will play in the final twosome on Sunday.

“I’m excited,” Wright said. “I feel like I’m ready. It’s great to be in this position. I’ve worked really hard on my game, so I’ve earned the right to be here. It’s not like, ‘Oh wow! I’m leading the tournament.’ I mean, my expectations are that I expect to be here.

“But in saying that, it’s also a new experience.”

Her playing partner, by contrast, hopes to have it mastered. Kerr is ranked sixth in the world, counts the 2007 U.S. Open among her victories and won this event in 2005.

She said her birdie-birdie finish to gain a share of the lead was big.

“If you don’t have to make up shots, it’s better,” she said.

In-Kyung Kim, one back after a 67, will play with Song-Hee Kim, who is two back after a 68, with Wendy Ward (67) and Natalie Gulbis (68) in the third-to-last group. Ochoa, who is tied with Ward and Gulbis, is in the fourth pairing with Shiho Oyama, who is seven back.

“I’m going to tell myself tomorrow is a new day,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa’s 13-under total coming into the day was a midpoint record, and Wright said having the 27-year-old leading the way inspired her to a share of the three-round mark at 15 under.

“Having seen Lorena at the top off the leaderboard, that kind of sets the wheels in motion when you get to the first tee because you know you’ve got to make birdies,” she said.

On Sunday, she intends to employ lessons learned from past days in contention, most recently the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she finished fourth a month ago.

“If you start planning the speech on the first hole, you know you’re going to be in trouble. It’s a matter of playing each shot at a time. You’ve got to pace yourself,” she said.

Kerr just hopes to keep her mind clear and trained where it needs to be.

“I have to focus on where I want to go tomorrow instead of being tied for the lead, because obviously that’s not going to hold up,” she said, adding that her mental training not only steers her clear of negative thoughts, but allows her to negotiate the rough patches.

“If you can ride those patches where not everything is coming together, that’s when you know you’re playing really well,” she said, noting that the philosophy worked for her in the third round when she had two bogeys on the front nine, then was 4-under on the last nine.

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