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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Holding an eight-stroke lead and 18 holes away from a second major title, Cristie Kerr wasn’t about to declare victory in the LPGA Championship.
“I can sit here and say, ‘Give me the trophy now.’ But it’s not going to happen,” Kerr said after shooting 69 Saturday. “I’ve got one more round of golf to play. There’s one reason I’m sitting here and so far ahead at this point is because of the attitude I’m bringing.”
Kerr’s focus was on display during a rain-soaked round at Locust Hill Country Club, where she went to 13-under 203 entering the final round Sunday. Her advantage tops the previous largest entering the final round of the LPGA Championship – Mickey Wright led by seven in 1961 on her way to a title.
And Kerr fell just short of matching the largest 54-hole lead at an LPGA major set by Babe Zaharias, who had a 10-stroke lead at the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open.
Mika Miyazato double-bogeyed No. 18 to finish at 72 and fall into a three-way tie for second with rookie Azahara Munoz and Jimin Kang after both finished with 70s in the LPGA’s second major of the year. The only others within 10 shots of Kerr are Song-Hee Kim, who shot 69 Saturday, and Jiyai Shin (70), who are 4 under for the tournament; and American Karrie Webb (69) at 3-under 213.
Shin, the world’s second-ranked player, is competing in her first tournament since an appendectomy two weeks ago.
Kang could only shrug when asked if there’s a chance of catching Kerr.
“I’ve got nothing to lose but 18 holes to go,” Kang said. “That’s all I can say.”
Miyazato’s not conceding anything just yet, either.
Speaking through an interpreter, Miyazato said: “If I keep my patience and endure to the last hole, then I am going to be able to catch up.”
There’s even more on the line for Kerr should she win on Sunday.
Opening the week fifth in the world rankings, Kerr is in position to take over the No. 1 spot held by Ai Miyazato, who supplanted Shin by winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic last weekend. The LPGA announced that if Kerr were to win, Miyazato – who is not related to Mika Miyazato – would need to finish second overall to retain her ranking.
That’s highly unlikely after Ai Miyazato shot 70 on Saturday to put her in a tie for 24th at 1 over for the tournament.
Kerr has an opportunity to become only the fifth player – and first American – to hold the top spot since the rankings were introduced in 2006.
“It would be great to get there. That’s step one,” said the 14-year tour veteran and 13-time tour winner. “But then you have to prove it over and over again every week.”
Kerr’s been on a roll all season. She has posted three top-3 finishes, including winning the State Farm Classic two weeks ago.
This week, she’s been nearly flawless since an opening 68 Thursday that put her in a three-way tie for first. Kerr opened Saturday ahead by five and eventually took control with three straight birdies, on Nos. 11-13, and with the rain steadily falling.
The run happened immediately after Kerr hit into the trees and bogeyed the par-4 10th, while Mika Miyazato birdied to inch to within three strokes of the lead.
Kerr responded with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 11, followed with a 12-foot birdie on 12, and finished the surge with a 10-footer on No. 13. That put Kerr at 12 under for the tournament and moved her six strokes ahead of Miyazato.
Kerr explained she was motivated because of her poor play, not because of what Miyazato was doing.
“I was just mad that I bogeyed 10. I just got on a run,” she said. “I definitely want to keep the foot on the gas. It doesn’t matter how-many-shot lead you have in golf; it’s not enough.”
After a bogey-5 on No. 14, she came back with an 8-foot birdie on the par-3 15th.
Kerr had three bogeys on Saturday after producing just one in her first two rounds. She continues to dominate the back nine, which she has played at a combined 10-under 101 for the week.
With thunderstorms forecast to roll in early in the afternoon, officials moved up the tee times by 90 minutes, and had the players go off in threesomes and off both tees in a bid to squeeze in the third round. The rain began about noon, and grew heavier an hour later as the final group reached the 14th green.
With thundershowers forecast for Sunday evening, officials have moved up the start of the final round by two hours, with Kerr and Kang set to tee off at 12:40 p.m.
Only three Americans have won the past 13 majors – including Kerr’s victory at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’m happy I’m way ahead, and I am hoping to go further ahead,” Kerr said. “But I can’t get ahead of myself.”