5 Things: Putting puts Inbee Park on top

Inbee Park, of South Korea, watches her tee shot on the ninth hole during the third round of the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – It was almost like someone waved a red flag on the first tee. Leader Inbee Park and Lizette Salas matched birdies there to start the day and kept grinding from there. Park was unflappable on the greens, putting only 28 times on her way to a 5-under 67 that gave her a three-shot lead on Salas.

“I didn’t really have to worry about the putting for my golfing career,” Park said of the reputation she’s developing on the greens. “Sometimes I have to worry about my swing more seriously, but not on the putting.”

Park, No. 1 in the Golfwek/Sagarin Rankings, didn’t make a bogey on Saturday at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. In fact, she’s only made two bogeys this week.

Major championships are a different beast, but Park certainly has been in this position on many a tour leaderboard before. She has held a third-round lead four other times in her career, but only one translated to a victory. That was at the 2012 Evian Masters. The three other leads, all in 2012, ended in runner-up finishes. Park’s best Kraft finish was a ninth in 2008, which is the same year she won the U.S. Women’s Open.

Aside from Salas, no other player is within six shots of Park entering the final round. Still, she insists Sunday won’t be just a two-woman race.

“Anything can happen on this golf course,” she said.

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SHE’LL BE CHASING: Lizette Salas can’t remember a time in her career when she won a tournament from more than three strokes back. Good thing for Salas, that’s exactly the deficit she has to make up on Park come Sunday at the Kraft. Salas is good at filing new experiences away for later use. Much of the reason she’s in this position on the eve of a major-championship Sunday has to do with being in contention at the past two LPGA events.

“This is all a learning experience for me,” Salas said, “and I’m just trying to have fun with it.”

Salas held the microphone with both hands when she arrived in the press room on Saturday evening. It was the only indication she was nervous. Salas is a Southern California kid – she grew up two hours away in Azusa, and played four years for USC – and will be a crowd favorite on Sunday.

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HOPING SHE FOUND THE FIX: Angela Stanford would have liked to shed some light on the swing fix that helped her move 25 spots up the leaderboard with a third-round 66, the low round of the day. Problem was, she’s not entirely sure the swing actually is fixed.

“I just tend to start losing it left and get off tempo and rhythm, and that might be a lot of it,” Stanford said. “I need to keep it up the left side of the golf course.”

Stanford has finished inside the top 15 at the Kraft for the past six years. She’s still searching for her first major championship, and certainly is among the best players without one.

Entering the final round, Stanford is in a good place. She’s already said she’ll cut down her travel schedule this year and hopes to spend more time in her Fort Worth home. Being on the road can be draining, and knowing that the rest of the season won’t be so busy has “helped tremendously.” She also recently finished Mark Frost’s The Match, which chronicles the 1956 match during which Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson took on Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi.

“Being from Shady Oaks, I know a little bit about Mr. Hogan’s history,” she said. “I know that his breakthrough was late, and he also won a U.S. Open on a course he was familiar with.”

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BENEFITS OF A HEALTHY DIET: When Caroline Hedwall was sidelined after last year’s U.S. Women’s Open with a left hip stress fracture, she began consulting a nutritionist. Hedwall, who had been playing through the injury for six weeks, took the following eight weeks to rest and concentrate on her diet.

“I’ve always worked out,” said Hedwall. “I feel like I hadn’t gotten the results that I wanted to.”

With help from her nutritionist, Hedwall worked on eating fewer carbs and more protein, and also cut out soda. Looking sleek at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Hedwall said she’s unsure exactly how much weight she has lost.

Hedwall is a native of Sweden who shares a house in Stillwater, Okla., with fellow former Oklahoma State player Karin Sjodin. The two sometimes room together and travel together on tour. Sjodin had a share of the lead entering the final round of last year’s Kraft, and this year Hedwall enters the final round seven shots behind leader Inbee Park. Hedwall shot a third-round 72, and is 5 under for the tournament.

“I’ve been playing good the last couple of weeks and I feel confident,” Hedwall said. “I was pretty much just waiting for this, to be honest – to be up and be in contention and it’s just fun that it’s just now in a major.”

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SHORT SHOTS: Aside from Park, Suzann Pettersen and Karrie Webb also posted a third-round 67. Both moved into a six-way tie for third. ... It takes some leaderboard scrolling to reach the low amateur in this field. Lydia Ko, 15, and Stephanie Meadow, a junior at the University of Alabama, are T-39. ... World No. 1 Stacy Lewis gained little ground with a third-round 71. She moved from T-28 to T-23. “Coming into the week, my swing didn’t feel great and I was kind of hoping I would figure things out by now but I just haven’t.”

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