Yang (68) in position for major breakthrough moment

Amy Yang is tied for the 54-hole lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

PINEHURST, N.C. – After Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, one of the first places he brought the trophy was to the bar at Orange Tree Golf Club. With its narrow corridors that demanded precision play, Stewart claimed the Orlando area course was the perfect prep for the Open examination.

These days, Orange Tree is the home to 2014 Masters champion Bubba Watson and fellow Orlando resident Amy Yang, who prepared for the demands of the U.S. Women’s Open at Orange Tree as recently as June 13.

“I played there almost every day,” she said. “It helped me a lot, driving off the tee. It’s really close from my house, too, so I go there all the time.”

Could the Women’s trophy be headed back to Orange Tree 15 years later?

Yang, 24, enjoyed a rollercoaster round Saturday, including six birdies and four bogeys en route to a 2-under 68 at Pinehurst and a share of the 54-hole lead with Michelle Wie.

Yang, who was born in Korea and moved to Australia to pursue her golf career, didn’t make a par until her eighth hole on Saturday, yo-yoing between birdies – at Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6 – and bogeys – at Nos. 1, 4 and 7. But it didn’t stop Yang, who has only one LPGA Tour victory, from moving a step closer to her first major.

Yang leads the field in birdies with 13, including when she reached the par-5, 10th hole in two shots and nearly made a 70-foot eagle putt. Her final birdie of the day came at the 12th hole when her 15-foot putt had just enough steam. Yang’s pinpoint precision with her irons got her into trouble late. She caught a greenside bunker at 16, but made an 8-footer to salvage par. At 18, she wasn’t so lucky, missing the green right and her bogey dropped her into a tie with Wie.

Yang has been close to hoisting the Women’s Open before. Her solid record in the championship includes finishing tied for fifth in 2010 and playing in the last group in 2012, where she finished runner-up. Her swing is the envy of most and had the television analysts cooing.

“I would pay good money to have that follow through,” Golf Channel’s Karen Stupples said, “and she makes it so effortless.”

NBC’s Gary Koch was equally impressed.

“She has a little bit of a squat move, she dips down and then moves back up again using the ground for leverage,” Koch said. “When I look at a player and I see that type of golf swing and all of the parts seem to be there with only one win, you often wonder, what’s missing.”

Not much this week at Pinehurst. Even Wie, who was paired with Yang during the championship’s first two rounds, sang her praises.

“She barely misses a fairway, she rarely misses a green, she’s a great putter, she’s really just really consistent,” Wie said. “It’s going to be a fun day tomorrow. I really like playing with her.”

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