At the end of a dawn-to-dusk day at Bulle Rock, Ai Miyazato and Pat Hurst were tied atop the leader board after three rounds of the LPGA Championship - but all eyes were on one of the golfers right behind them.
Sinking a birdie putt on the last green, Michelle Wie pulled within one shot of the co-leaders and put herself into position to contend for her first major title today in the final round in Havre de Grace.
"This course still owes me a really good round. I'm going to try to shoot it and see what happens," said Wie, 16, who shot a 71 yesterday.
The co-leaders and Wie are among 13 golfers within three strokes of each other after 54 holes.
"It should be exciting [today]. I will be nervous," said Miyazato, 20, who is Japan's version of Wie - a soaring, young talent who has become a major sports attraction in her country.
Three-time defending champion Annika Sorenstam is six shots back after shooting 75 yesterday.
"It's never too late, but things have got to change," she said.
Wie didn't play as well yesterday as she did in Friday's second round, in which she shot 68. Her drives tended to drift to the left and into trouble yesterday, and she didn't sink many key putts. She seemed destined to end on a down note after missing a short par putt on No. 17.
"Just a bad putt. I pulled it to the left," she said.
But she regrouped with the birdie on No. 18.
"I was pretty [angry] after 17. I was ready to bite someone's head off," Wie said. "So I think I kind of channeled that frustration into a good hole."
Wie seemingly had a built-in advantage yesterday because she only had to play 18 holes; most of the rest of the field had to start at 8 a.m. and finish their second rounds, which had been delayed by Friday's rains.
But Wie's erratic play offset whatever advantage she had. She birdied the first hole, bogeyed the next two, birdied No. 4 and bogeyed No. 5. Not until the sixth hole did she finally register a par.
"It was a very up-and-down day," she said. "I didn't feel like I had any real momentum. But I felt like I was playing very solidly. I was hitting the ball great except for a couple of tee shots here and there."
Hurst, who had to play eight holes in the morning before the third round in the afternoon, also had some could-have-beens. She three-putted from 3 feet for a double bogey on No. 9, missed a 4-footer for the lead on No. 15 and missed a 10-footer for birdie on the final hole that would have given her sole possession of the lead. She ended with a 72.
"I'm a little tired, but I went home and took a nap [between rounds], so I'm OK," said Hurst, a 37-year-old mother of two from Scottsdale, Ariz., who won a major title in 1998 (the Nabisco Dinah Shore) but has operated largely out of the headlines while putting together a solid pro career.
Hurst had relatively few fans in her gallery yesterday, as opposed to Wie, whose gallery was easily the largest on the grounds, and also Miyazato, who is being trailed by a sizable swarm of Japanese reporters and cameramen.
Officially, Miyazato is an LPGA rookie, but her impressive credentials give her away as a more formidable golfer. She became a household name in Japan while in high school, turned pro in 2003, won a major championship last year and played in an event on the Japanese men's tour.
She was among the earnings leaders on the Japanese women's tour for two straight years before deciding to try the U.S. tour. She has recorded two top-10 finishes in 11 starts in the U.S. this year.
As Wie, Miyazato and Hurst moved to the top yesterday, they crossed paths with a handful of golfers who were dropping after having made headlines earlier in the tournament.
Dorothy Delasin, a leader when play began early yesterday, shot a third-round 81.
"I couldn't get my flow going and it was just one bad thing after another," Delasin said.
Two of the LPGA's bright young lights also struggled: Morgan Pressel shot 79 and Paula Creamer shot 75.
But the brightest of the young lights, Wie, was in contention as the sun set, ready to make another run after having finished second behind Sorenstam in this tournament last year.
"This year I feel a lot more confident with my game," she said. "I'm feeling really good."
She said she had a score in mind that she wanted to shoot today, but wouldn't reveal it.
"You'll see tomorrow," she said. email@example.com
9 a.m.: Karin Sjodin and Jamie Fischer
9:09: Jackie Gallagher-Smith and Karen Stupples
9:18: Jeong Jang and Ashli Bunch
9:27: Moira Dunn and Becky Iverson
9:36: Teresa Lu and Allison Hanna
9:45: Miriam Nagl and Laura Davies
9:54: Carin Koch and Paula Creamer
10:03: Birdie Kim and Kristi Albers
10:12: Dorothy Delasin and Jill McGill
10:21: Siew-Ai Lim and Morgan Pressel
10:30: Kris Tamulis and Sophie Gustafson
10:39: Nancy Scranton and Gloria Hee Jung Park
10:48: Sarah Lee and Wendy Doolan
11:01: Il Mi Chung and Liselotte Neumann
11:10: Kim Saiki and Michelle Ellis
11:19: Maria Hjorth and Marisa Baena
11:28: Angela Stanford and Michele Redman
11:37: Jessica Reese-Quayle and Rosie Jones
11:46: Nicole Perrot and Yu Ping Lin
11:55: Juli Inkster and Mikaela Parmlid
12:04 p.m.: Natalie Gulbis and Laura Diaz
12:13: Seon Hwa Lee and Candie Kung
12:22: Rachel Hetherington and Hee-Won Han
12:31: Nina Reis and Suzann Pettersen
12:44: Annika Sorenstam and Heather Young
12:53: Beth Daniel and Reilley Rankin
1:02: Julieta Granada and Brittany Lincicome
1:11: Sung Ag Yim and Cristie Kerr
1:20: Yuri Fudoh and Young Kim
1:29: Christina Kim and Young Jo
1:38: Wendy Ward and Nicole Castrale
1:47: Silvia Cavalleri and Lindsey Wright
1:56: Sherri Steinhauer and Karrie Webb
2:05: Meena Lee and Minea Blomqvist
2:14: Se Ri Pak and Lorena Ochoa
2:23: Mi Hyun Kim and Jee Young Lee
2:32: Michelle Wie and Shi Hyun Ahn
2:41: Ai Miyazato and Pat Hurst
The leaders ...
Ai Miyazato 68-72-69-209
Pat Hurst 66-71-72-209
... and selected followers
Michelle Wie 71-68-71-210
Shi Hyun Ahn 69-70-71-210
Mi Hyun Kim 68-71-71-210
Jee Young Lee 70-71-70-211
Lorena Ochoa 68-72-71-211
Se Ri Pak 71-69-71-211
Karrie Webb 70-70-72-212
Nicole Castrale 64-75-74-213
Annika Sorenstam 71-69-75-215
[ Complete scores, PG 6E]