Surprises at the top: Lee, Hjorth are 1-2

The Baltimore Sun

With two of the sport's biggest names in contention going into yesterday's third round of the McDonald's LPGA Championship, you would figure that either Lorena Ochoa or Annika Sorenstam would somehow find her way to the top of the leader board at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace.

Ochoa and Sorenstam remain in contention, but they have some catching up to do.

Jee Young Lee, 22, a South Korean with a string of top-10 finishes in major championships, followed a 7-under-par 65 by Maria Hjorth of Sweden with one of her own to reach 12-under 204 and take a one-stroke lead over Hjorth going into today's final round.

But it is the two players tied at 10-under who will continue to command nearly all the attention.

With birdies on two of the first three holes, Sorenstam shot a 4-under 68 to move into the hunt for her fourth LPGA championship and 11th major championship of a Hall of Fame career that the 37-year-old Swede said she will conclude at the end of the 2008 season.

"Well, there are several names out there, several good players," Sorenstam said. "I really am not going to look too much at who I am playing against. I just need to go out there and do what I do best, and that's play golf. Everybody is looking forward to tomorrow, and everyone wants it very badly."

Despite a disappointing round of even-par 72 that included a three-putt bogey on the opening hole and a nearly disastrous double bogey on the par-3 seventh when she failed to get the ball out of heavy rough, Ochoa used a couple of par-3 birdies on the back nine to also stay within two shots of the lead.

"I think it would have been different if this was tomorrow," Ochoa said of the double bogey, her second of the tournament. "I just told myself, 'Let's start over, we're here, we're only a couple of shots behind,' and that's what I did. For sure, experience counts, but I'm glad it happened today and not tomorrow."

It came a day after Ochoa took a one-stroke lead and seemed to take control of the tournament with a 7-under 65. Not only did the 26-year-old from Mexico struggle to control her irons, but she is also battling a two-week cold.

"It was a tough day. It was hard to concentrate," Ochoa said. "It was a bad day at the office."

It was also a long, hot day at the office.

After the start of play was suspended by about three hours because of heavy fog, forcing tournament officials to have players tee off on both the first and ninth holes, the skies cleared, the sun baked and the temperature reached triple digits.

It didn't stop Hjorth and Lee from coming out firing.

Hjorth, who along with Lee finished tied for second behind Ochoa at last year's Women's British Open and also tied for fourth at this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship, played the front nine in 5-under and avoided trouble after an errant drive hit a cart path on the par-4 18th hole.

"Of course it was very important," said Hjorth, 34, who was able to save par after nearly chipping in her third shot from just off the green. "I three-putted for bogey on 18 [on Friday], so it was nice not to drop a shot there again. Get off the course with a really good memory."

Lee, who won a 2005 LPGA event while a member of the Korean tour before joining the LPGA Tour the next year, has only good memories of Bulle Rock, having finished tied for 10th last year and tied for 14th in 2006. She also finished seventh in last year's U.S. Women's Open.

Yesterday, Lee survived a double bogey on the par-4 fifth hole and steadily climbed past more experienced players such as Sorenstam, Ochoa and eventually Hjorth, with an eagle on the par-5 15th and a birdie on the 18th hole.

Asked what she thought seeing her name go up on the leader board, Lee smiled.

"Actually, I wasn't looking at the leader board in the first place," Lee said through an interpreter. "But as I was going up and saw my name up there, I got more confident and it was more easy for me to concentrate. I hope I can stay on the leader board tomorrow as well."

Had the pairings for today's final round not been changed from the normal twosomes to threesomes because more morning fog is in the forecast, Sorenstam and Ochoa would have been playing together. Instead, it will be Sorenstam playing with Hjorth and Lee.

For Hjorth, it will be a new experience playing with Sorenstam, whom she followed through the ranks of Swedish golf.

"It will be different for me, but I have to go out and see it as any other golf tournament," Hjorth said. "It's still a golf ball you're going to hit. It's still a golf course you're going to play. So as long as I don't occupy my mind thinking, 'Oh, this is the last group in a major,' hopefully I can handle it well. And I'm looking forward to it."

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