Baldry: No shortage of great champions at Kingsmill

Cristie Kerr watches her tee shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the Kingsmill Championship.

Cristie Kerr watches her tee shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the Kingsmill Championship.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – History tells us that only the brightest stars win the Kingsmill Championship. There are no one-off winners here. No one-hit wonders. All seven Kingsmill champions have won majors. Three are in the Hall of Fame.

“There’s definitely no chickens to be counted,” said two-time champion Cristie Kerr, when asked to assess this year’s leaderboard.

Kerr leads by two strokes at the River Course heading into Sunday, after a third-round 66. She’s at 10-under 203, with 2007 champ Suzann Pettersen (68) and former World. No. 1 Stacy Lewis (69) at 8 under. Angela Stanford sits alone in fourth. Stanford is one of two players to never miss the cut at Kingsmill, along with Natalie Gulbis.

“It’s a ball-striker’s course,” said Pettersen. “It has produced probably the best ball-striking champions in the past.”

Grace Park won the inaugural LPGA event at Kingsmill in 2003. Se Ri Pak followed her in ’04, and then came Kerr, Karrie Webb and Pettersen. When Annika Sorenstam won the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill in 2008, she set a scoring record at 19-under par. It turned out to be a significant victory (72nd) for Sorenstam in that it was her last. Shortly after, she announced her retirement.

After Michelob Ultra stepped down as title sponsor in 2009, the event at Kingsmill dropped off the LPGA schedule for two years. When it returned last fall, Jiyai Shin beat Paula Creamer in an epic nine-hole playoff. Shin went on to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open the following week.

Kingsmill also hosted a PGA Tour event from 1981 to 2002. It’s one of the best courses on the LPGA schedule.

“There will never be a surprise around this track,” Pettersen said. “I don’t think you can get away with kind of a one-dimension shot out here. You’ve got to be able to work the ball both ways and be able to control the spin.”

Kerr, a winner here in ’05 and ’09, said she’s going to go into Sunday with the mentality that she’s two back rather than two ahead.

“That’s when I play my best golf,” she said.

Kerr hit 14 greens on Saturday, her best performance of the week. She posted six birdies, and a blemish-free 32 on the back nine.

“I think I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve done the last three days, and that’s focus on the process of the shot,” said Kerr. “I know it sounds kind of boring, but that’s when I do my best. If I do that and I start rolling the rock, I’m going to be hard to beat.”

Ariya Jutanugarn, the 17-year-old Thai player who is here this week on a sponsor exemption, led the field going into the weekend but faltered in the swirling winds with a 2-over 73. She’s now five shots behind Kerr.

“I tried to track the line, tried to trust my putting but I still miss it a lot,” said Jutanugarn, who also drove the ball left into a hazard on the opening hole and made bogey. Jutanugarn has played in three LPGA events this season and finished no worse than fourth. She’s currently tied for sixth.

Kingsmill’s second sponsor exemption went to South Carolina grad Katie Burnett, who is making her LPGA debut this week. She stands at 4 under for the tournament. Burnett, a rookie on both the LET and LPGA, flies out to Turkey on Sunday evening for her next event. She’ll head back to the States immediately after that for the LPGA tournament in Mobile.

“Definitely had quite a bit of nerves,” said Burnett of playing in her first LPGA event. “Especially today with the big crowd on (No.) 1.”

All eyes on Sunday, however, will be on the final two groups, as experience proves key.

“Like Suzann said, two shots on this golf course can be gone in one swing,” Lewis said.

It makes for great theater here along the James River, where talent thrives.

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