Choi takes the lead at Titleholders
NAPLES, Fla. — U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi was steady after a careless three-putt bogey early in her third round Saturday at the Titleholders and finished with a 3-under 69 to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the LPGA Tour season.
Choi limited her mistakes, even as those around her were dropping shots in a tough wind at The TwinEagles Club.
Ai Miyazato quickly gave up her one-shot lead at the start of the round when a chip rolled back to her feet beyond the par-5 second hole and led to double bogey. Brittany Lincicome missed a 3-foot par putt on the second hole and hit a chip that never came close to reaching the green on the third hole.
They all did well to stay in the hunt.
Choi hit a hybrid 5-wood to 15 feet for birdie on the par-3 17th and closed with a two-putt for par to reach 12-under 204. That gave her a one-shot advantage over Miyazato, who made four birdies on the back nine and salvaged a 71.
So Yeon Ryu, the LPGA rookie of the year and one of Choi's best friends, ran off four straight birdies on the front nine before cooling off for a 66. She was two behind.
Karrie Webb made her blunder late, but it was a big one.
She pulled her approach on the 18th to the left, and the ball bounced down a walkway and under a table. She had to stick four tees in the ground to get relief twice, from a picket fence and the corner of a grandstand. Her chip went through the green and next to the grandstand, leading to another free drop. Her next chip came out heavy and rolled back against the grandstand, and a third drop. Webb had to hole a 15-foot putt for double bogey, dropped her back to a 71, five shots behind.
Lincicome overcame her consecutive bogeys for a 70 and was at 9-under 207 with Karine Icher, who also had a 70.
Stacy Lewis, the LPGA player of the year, won't be winning the money title. The 27-year-old American has to win the Titleholders and its $500,000 prize to have any chance of catching Inbee Park, but Lewis had a second straight 72 and was 10 shots out of the lead at 214.
Park was at 4-under 212 and likely sewed up the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
The only theater left is at the top of the leaderboard, with two good friends — Choi and Ryu — in the final group, both wanting to pass the time and calm the nerves with conversation about anything but golf. They will be alongside Miyazato, who spent Saturday bantering with her caddie.
Miyazato's lead was gone early when her third shot to the par-5 second when over the green down a steep slope. Her first chip came back to her feet, and she failed to get up-and-down, giving her a double bogey. Choi made birdie on the hole and suddenly had a two-shot lead.
On the par-4 third, Miyazato again went over the green and faced a tough chip up a steep slope. She said her caddie "made a mistake" and she let him know it. But the Japanese star hit a delicate bump-and-run up the hill to 5 feet for par, and when her tee shot on the par-4 third settled 5 feet away, the caddie said, "Welcome back."
Miyazato looked at him and said, "Welcome back, me?" And the caddie replied, "No, me," to suggest he was in good graces again.
She said they shared fun conversations the rest of the round, which was key for Miyazato. This is the last event of the year, and Miyazato says that has allowed her to play more freely because she won't have any serious golf for the next few months.
Choi wants to keep it light, too.
She first met Ryu at a junior tournament some 10 years ago and they have remained close friends. They also are the last two U.S. Women's Open champions, with Ryu winning last year before joining the LPGA Tour.
"She's a very smart girl," Choi said. "She knows how to practice."
It won't be just the three of them, not with Lincicome only three shots behind and with enough length to reach at least three of the par 5s.
"I have a lot of good players chasing me," Choi said.
Suzann Pettersen had a 72 and was in the group at 7-under 209, along with Webb and Brittany Lang, another long hitter who had a 69.
At stake for Choi is a chance to win for the second time this year and collect a big check, which could come in handy. Before returning home, she will be shopping for a new house in Orlando on Monday, most likely in the Isleworth neighborhood. What she picks might depend on the size of her check Sunday.
"I need a good result," she said with a laugh.
Lewis, Lincicome, Park and Angela Stanford already cashed in to some degree on Saturday. They were selected to receive "performance" awards — distance off the tee for Lincicome, a "drive to the top" for Lewis, compelling play by Park and community service by Stanford. Each was given a Kia Optima.