Annika Sorenstam started an early victory lap as she headed to the back nine at Bulle Rock Golf Course yesterday, a total of 12-under-par on her scorecard and a five-stroke lead on the field at the $1.8 million McDonald's LPGA Championship.
After a brief swerve during which the 34-year-old Swede's lead was reduced to three strokes, Sorenstam regained her footing on the route -- or rout -- she was taking toward the ninth major championship of her career.
As a result, Sorenstam will head into today's final round with a five-stroke lead over Young Kim of South Korea.
At 12-under-par 204, Sorenstam tied the 54-hole tournament scoring record for a par-72 course. Five players -- two-time champion Laura Davies of England, 15-year-old amateur phenom Michelle Wie, Natalie Gulbis, Moira Dunn and Jeong Jang of South Korea -- are seven strokes behind.
Despite holding on to her lead it was difficult at times for the normally unflappable Sorenstam to control her emotions. When she nearly plunked her second shot on the par-5 15th into a creek that fronts the green, there was a sense that the list of contenders, not to mention the tournament itself, had been given a new life. Sorenstam was more than a trifle concerned.
"At the time I was a little frustrated and I think that's why I got on fire on 16 and 17," Sorenstam said later. "I could tell myself be patient, that there's a long way to go and all the stuff I've been taught to say, but at the time you just get so annoyed about the situation."
Sorenstam's two birdies increased her lead to six strokes before she bogeyed 18. It's familiar territory for a player who led the first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, by five shots before winning and has won nine of her past 10 events when leading after 54 holes.
"You know, sometimes it's hard to have a big lead because you think, 'This looks really good,'" said Sorenstam. "In my particular case, I look at the leader board quite a bit and start analyzing everybody else's game instead of really just focusing on what I've got to be focusing on, which is myself and my own game. If you focus on your own game, a lot of times it takes care of itself."
Davies admitted that it's difficult not to be thinking about what Sorenstam is doing and what it might take to beat her. After dropping two strokes on the opening hole when she bogeyed and Sorenstam birdied, Davies bogeyed the third hole and started going for big shots. Some worked, many didn't.
It led to Davies using a driver from the fairway on the par-5 11th and trying to drive the green on the 330-yard par-4 16th. Davies parred No. 11, bogeyed No. 16 (when Sorenstam birdied) and bogeyed the par-4 closing hole after driving into the rough.
It all led to a 2-over-par 74 for Davies.
"If you turn up to make a nice check, you lay up on 16, if you turn up to try to win, you've got to make something happen," said Davies, who needs to win one more major or two more regular tour events to gain entrance into the LPGA's Hall of Fame. "Annika will always make something happen."
As Sorenstam chases history in trying to become the first player on the LPGA Tour to win the same major championship three years in a row, and the first in 19 years to get halfway to a Grand Slam, the rest of the field is chasing her. Given her record when leading after 54 holes, it seems futile.
"You probably can't win now, unless Annika does something very unusual," Davies said. "It's just a race for second place ... the way I'm looking at it."
Asked if anyone can catch Sorenstam, Kim, 25, said, "If God can help me, I can do [it]."
It will likely take more than divine intervention to stop this human steamroller. Sorenstam has won all three times this year when leading after 54 holes, has won the last six times when she has held the lead going into the final round. She has lost when leading by five strokes or more only once -- in 2001.
If she wins -- better yet, when she wins -- it will be Sorenstam's sixth victory this season in the eight tournaments she has played and her 62nd career victory. She would become the first player since Pat Bradley in 1986 to win the first two majors of the year.
Davies has an interesting perspective on Sorenstam, having played together on six European Solheim Cup teams and watched her become the No. 1 player in women's golf, a position the 41-year-old Davies held when Sorenstam turned pro in 1994.
When Sorenstam briefly gave some hope on the back nine yesterday, Davies saw it differently.
"It's almost like she's toying with us, like a mouse and a cat there," said Davies. "She lets us get a look in and then she pulls us back again."
Off again, taking her now familiar victory lap.
Third-round leader ...
A. Sorenstam 68-67-69--204
... and selected followers
Y. Kim 73-68-68--209
L. Davies 67-70-74--211
M. Dunn 71-68-72--211
N. Gulbis 67-71-73--211
J. Jang 71-71-69--211
M. Wie 69-71-71--211
L. Ochoa 72-72-68--212
M. Baena 70-69-73--212
C. Kerr 74-72-67--213
Complete scores, 10E
Wie stays in contention with a 1-under 71, but the 15-year-old amateur realizes it will be tough to catch Sorenstam today. Page 10E
Hole of the day: No. 5
The green on No. 5 is on the most remote part of the course, an uphill hike that only the heartiest in the gallery following Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies took yesterday. They saw Davies post one of the 32 bogeys on the par-4 hole, which played longer than its listed 355 yards. Its back right hole location surrendered just eight birdies, the most significant belonging to Young Kim and Michelle Wie, who drew her drive perfectly on the dogleg left. The average score yesterday was 4.40, making it the hardest hole of the third round.
Today's LPGA tee times
7:30 a.m.: Laurie Rinker, Barb Mucha
7:39 a.m.: Reilley Rankin, Katie Allison
7:48 a.m.: Katherine Hull, Tina Barrett
7:57 a.m.: Michele Redman, Yu Ping Lin
8:06 a.m.: Nadina Taylor, Candy Hannemann
8:15 a.m.: Lorie Kane, Laurel Kean
8:24 a.m.: Kris Tschetter, Christina Kim
8:33 a.m.: Catherine Cartwright, Maria Hjorth
8:42 a.m.: Dawn Coe-Jones, Birdie Kim
8:51 a.m.: Stephanie Louden, Patricia Baxter-Johnson
9 a.m.: Joanne Morley, Nancy Scranton
9:09 a.m.: Kim Saiki, Heather Daly-Donofrio
9:18 a.m.: Wendy Doolan, Karrie Webb
9:27 a.m.: Shi Hyun Ahn, Nicole Perrot
9:40 a.m.: Bernadette Luse, Sae-Hee Son
9:49 a.m.: Suzann Pettersen, Paula Marti
9:58 a.m.: Meg Mallon, Stacy Prammanasudh
10:07 a.m.: Leta Lindley, Brittany Lincicome
10:16 a.m.: Janice Moodie, Hee-Won Han
10:25 a.m.: Jimin Kang, Aree Song
10:34 a.m.: Il Mi Chung, Johanna Head
10:43 a.m.: Jill McGill, Sung Ah Yim
10:52 a.m.: Emilee Klein, Mi Hyun Kim
11:01 a.m.: Candie Kung, Hilary Lunke
11:10 a.m.: Rachel Hetherington, Catriona Matthew
11:19 a.m.: Beth Daniel, Juli Inkster
11:28 a.m.: A.J. Eathorne, Tina Fischer
11:37 a.m.: Jamie Hullett, Beth Bader
11:46 a.m.: Pat Hurst, Laura Diaz
11:59 a.m.: Liselotte Neumann, Paula Creamer
12:08 p.m.: Angela Stanford, Rosie Jones
12:17 p.m.: Kristi Albers, Lindsey Wright
12:26 p.m.: Karen Stupples, Gloria Park
12:35 p.m.: Heather Bowie, Meena Lee
12:44 p.m.: Carin Koch, Jennifer Rosales
12:53 p.m.: Marisa Baena, Cristie Kerr
1:02 p.m.: Lorena Ochoa, Laura Davies
1:11 p.m.: Moira Dunn, Natalie Gulbis
1:20 p.m.: Jeong Jang, Michelle Wie
1:29 p.m.: Annika Sorenstam, Young Kim