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Teenagers Wie, Pressel share lead as youth ventures to top at Open


CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. - So exactly when did the U.S. Women's Open turn into Amateur Hour?

While Annika Sorenstam spent yesterday preparing her concession speech in her run for her third major title of the year, two teenage amateurs, 15-year-old Michelle Wie and 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, share the lead after three rounds with Karen Stupples.

Also in the mix is 18-year-old Paula Creamer, who is one shot behind, which means this group of contenders is so young, maybe they should just settle it with a pillow fight.

Wie could be the youngest player to win a major. She reacted to that possibility in her typical teen manner.

"I think it would be really cool," she said.

"But I haven't really thought about that, and if I think about that tomorrow, I will put too much pressure on myself. When I'm out there on the golf course, I completely forget my age. I am a golfer trying my best, so I don't really think that, 'Oh, I am playing good for a 15-year-old.'

"I just think in some moments, age doesn't matter. We're all playing the same game. It just comes down to who plays best."

Meanwhile, Stupples has been around longer at 32, and the Englishwoman is the reigning British Open champion, which might prove to be some sort of advantage as she tries to prevent the kids from turning Cherry Hills Country Club into their own playpen.

"I do have that experience, but these girls, they are so young, they are fearless," said Stupples, who got back into it with six consecutive birdies. "Whether that compensates for age, I don't know."

Wie had the lead to herself until the 16th hole, where she drove into the rough, knocked it over the green into more rough and wound up with a bogey. She finished with a 1-over-par 72 and a three-round total of 1-over 214.

Stupples had a 69 and Pressel, who at 12 was the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Open in 2001, turned in a 70.

Wie just finished the ninth grade at Punahou School in Honolulu and would be the youngest player to win a major title by about five years. Sandra Post was 20 years and 19 days when she won the 1968 LPGA Championship.

The only amateur to win the U.S. Open was Catherine Lacoste in 1967 when she was 27.

According to LPGA rules, if an amateur under 18 wins an event, she may petition Commissioner Ty Votaw for early entrance onto the LPGA Tour. If permission is granted, the player has the option to declare herself professional and receive non-exempt status for the remainder of the year, then receive exempt status for the next year.

Wie indicated she has made no decision about petitioning the LPGA if she wins today.

"I'm having a lot of fun as an amateur," she said. "It's so carefree."

Sorenstam seems far from carefree. She shot a 2-over 73 and is five shots from the leaders, but because she's in a 10-way tie for 16th, there are 15 players she would have to pass today.

In the 1960 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer passed 14 players on the last day, closed with a 65 and won - on this same course. Sorenstam's situation is similar.

"I will be chasing. I know what I have to do," Sorenstam said. "There's nothing that's going to hold me back. I don't have to look behind me. All I need to do is look forward.

"I need to get off to a good start. I need to climb on the leader board and show them I am still here and I am serious and we'll see. I don't think I need a miracle round, but it needs to be good."

She also needs to play better on the par-5 holes, which she has played in 1-over the first three rounds. Of the nine par-5s Sorenstam has played, she hasn't birdied any of them.

Sorenstam three-putted the third hole from 20 feet for a bogey, right after she made birdie at the second, but her worst hole of the tournament was coming up. At the par-3 sixth, at 158 yards the shortest hole on the course, Sorenstam four-putted for a double bogey.

How exactly did that happen?

"Eight-iron, putt, putt, putt, putt," she said.

Sorenstam's first putt was 40 feet uphill and she ran it eight feet past the hole. She missed it coming back and then missed a 5-footer before finally tapping it in.

At the par-4 ninth, Sorenstam drove it into the left rough under a tree, chopped it out only about 10 yards and wound up missing a 20-footer for par.

Three-over for the day and 7-over for the tournament, Sorenstam made the turn.

She played better on the back, at least she was steadier, but a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 13 was the only birdie she could find.

That's six birdies in 54 holes for Sorenstam, and even she admitted she's running out of holes now.

"I am definitely a little further back than I wanted to be." (Scores, Page 13e)

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Leader board

Third-round leaders ...

Karen Stupples 75-70-69-214

Morgan Pressel 71-73-70-214

Michelle Wie 69-73-72-214

... and selected followers

Birdie Kim 74-72-69-215

Young Jo 74-71-70-215

Paula Creamer 74-69-72-215

Tina Barrett 73-74-71-218

Annika Sorenstam 71-75-73-219

Complete scores, 13E

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