Kraft marquee: Thompson, Wie share lead
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Fans have waited years for this. Michelle Wie, the biggest star in the women’s game, shares a lead going into the final round of a major for the first time since the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open. And she’s playing Sunday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship alongside another LPGA giant, 19-year-old Lexi Thompson, a phenom in her own right.
It’s a blockbuster pairing that’s been a long time coming.
“I probably won’t sleep tonight,” Wie said. “You want something so badly. I dreamed about this all my life, so I’m just trying not to think about it so much.”
Thompson three-putted the 18th hole Saturday to drop into a tie with Wie at 10-under 206. She missed several short putts during the round that could’ve given her a sizable lead. Both Wie and Thompson have had their share of putting woes over the years.
PHOTOS: Kraft Nabisco Championship, Saturday
See some of the action of Saturday's third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the LPGA's 2014 season.
“I would say I had a few misreads today,” Thompson said. “I don't think I putted as well today and put as many good strokes on my putts.”
Wie’s unorthodox approach works. She struggled getting the ball to the hole several times in the third round but said she simply thought the greens were quicker.
“I’m not the type of putter that slams putts in,” Wie said. “I’ve always been a die-in kind of putter.”
Sitting just below the power player is an 18-year-old wild card. Charley Hull doesn’t know what it means to deliver trite, rehearsed lines in the media room. She has no baggage from majors past. She already has experienced success at the Solheim Cup, golf’s most pressure-packed stage, and expects to win every time she tees it up.
Perhaps most important, she has a level head.
Hull posted a bogey-free 66 Saturday, three weeks after winning her first professional tournament in Morocco on the strength of a closing 9-under 62. And two weeks after turning 18.
“When I won I thought, ‘Oh, I thought it’s going to feel a lot better,’ ” Hull said. “But I think it was because I have imagined myself winning so many times and dreaming it, but actually when it turned into reality, it was like all right. I kind of expected it.”
The same thing happened when Hull went a nightclub for the first time with friends after turning 18. She had a pizza party at the house and then scheduled a night out with friends 10 miles away.
They had booked a room to stay overnight, Dave Hull said, but Charley came home at 11:30 that night, saying she got bored with everyone drinking. She wanted to go out and practice the next day.
“That’s Charley,” Dave said.
Wie has been using a stinger shot throughout the week as part of her controlled game plan. Dave Hull remembers the first time Charley watched Tiger Woods hit a stinger. She was 8 years old and came back telling her dad she wanted her instructor, Kevin Theobald, to teach her the shot.
“I don’t think he knew how to hit it,” Dave said.
Hull pulled a 4-iron out of her bag (she always hit blades) and hit the stinger. Dave said do it again.
“Because she’d seen it,” Dave said, “she done it.”
The oldest player in the last two groups by a dozen years is Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, who needs only the Kraft to compete the career Grand Slam.
At 36, Pak might have finally figured out how to play with the pressure of winning this elusive crown.
“I’ve been here so many times, I know exactly what I need to do,” Pak said earlier in the week.
She’s never felt more at peace in the desert.
Major winners (and moms) Cristie Kerr and Catriona Matthew trail by four and could make a few youngsters weak in the knees by posting a low number early.
Karrie Webb holds the record for biggest come-from-behind victory at Mission Hills. She started the final round in 2006 seven strokes back. Webb, incidentally, is seven shots back this week at 3 under.
Should Hull manage to break through Sunday, she’d eclipse 2007 winner Morgan Pressel, who holds the record for youngest player to win an LPGA major at 18 years, 10 months and nine days.
“It would be the best feeling ever,” said Hull. “It would be the best month of my life because I’m going to watch the Masters next week.”
It just gets better.