Baldry: Shin setting sights on World No. 1

Jiyai Shin lines up a putt on the third green during the third round of the Kia Classic.

Jiyai Shin lines up a putt on the third green during the third round of the Kia Classic.

INDUSTRY, Calif. – The wraparound shades give Jiyai Shin a more lethal look. Gone are those delightful wire-rimmed glasses fans had grown to love. Lasik eye surgery during the offseason made those redundant. The player known as the “Final-Round Queen” in Korea might be the “Final-Round Assassin” by year’s end.

Shin, who said the shades help her read greens, wrapped up Round 3 of the Kia Classic as darkness fell March 26, and nothing but a warm smile crossed her face.

“I really trust myself,” Shin said. “I have really big confidence at the moment.”

Shin posted 3-under 70 to take a one-stroke lead into the final round over Sandra Gal, the former Florida player who is winless so far on the LPGA. Gal played 27 holes on Saturday and worked more than 12 hours.

Rushing due to approaching darkness, Shin hooked her drive into the water on the par-5 18th and finished with bogey. She smiled when asked about the rare miscue, and said it might make for a more exciting finish on Sunday.

“I told my caddie ‘Wow, she’s not a machine,’” Gal said.

Regardless of what happens in the final round of the Kia, No. 2-ranked Shin can’t overtake Yani Tseng for the top position. But the work Shin put in with her new instructor, Glen Daugherty is taking hold and she’s 15 yards longer off the tee. (Daugherty, incidentally, used to work with Tseng.)

Shin and Daugherty worked closely together during the offseason in Palm Springs, where Shin is looking to buy a second home. She currently makes Duluth, Ga., her U.S. base.

“Tomorrow we hope the sun will come up,” said Shin, “because we really need the sun.”

Tseng has every reason to look behind her. Armed with her new shades, Shin is looking nowhere but up.

•••

The Kia Classic felt like home to Na Yeon Choi. Thousands of Korean faces lined the gallery ropes, cheering on Choi to an 8-under 65 in a chilly third round.

Choi rolled in five putts inside 15 feet and eagled the sixth, with a 48-degree wedge from 106 yards.

“A lot of Korean crowd came here, and they really supported me today,” said Choi. “Yeah, I think that’s why I played well.”

In addition to the friendly faces, Choi credited the Rife putter she put in the bag on Saturday. After practicing with the Rife 400 Mid Mallet during the offseason, Choi switched to a TaylorMade Ghost – because it looked “cool” – before going to Asia.

After today’s round, Choi knows the Rife is the better fit.

Choi began the year T-15 and sixth in Thailand and Singapore, respectively. She was scheduled to play in Japan last week but the JLPGA canceled the event after the earthquake.

Greg Morrison, a Canadian transplant who now lives just outside Seoul, is traveling with Choi this season to tutor her in English. Morrison said it’s proving difficult to get in their four to five sessions per week. They pack in lessons when they can – in the car, over dinner.

“She’s incredibly smart,” Morrison said.

•••

Mindy Kim, the third-year player from Diamond Bar, Calif., finds herself in prime position for another career finish. Kim had her best showing to date last week at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, where she finished sixth. Prior to that her best finish was a tie for 10th at the 2009 Wegmans LPGA. She’s is currently tied for sixth at 6 under.

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