Yang keeps LPGA Championship lead with late birdies

Orlando: South Korea’s Amy Yang birdied the last two holes for a one-over par 73 that allowed her to cling to a one-stroke lead after the third round of the LPGA Tour Championship.

Yang, seeking her first LPGA triumph and first of any kind since she won the 2006 Australian Ladies Masters at age 16, stood on six-under par 210 after 54 holes after the 1.5 million-dollar season-ending tournament.

Sweden’s Maria Hjorth fired a 71 to stand one stroke back entering the final round with American Cristie Kerr and South Korea’s Seon Hwa Lee sharing third on 213, one stroke ahead of American Laura Diaz. No one else was below par.

“If you are under par, I still think there’s a chance,” Hjorth said.

A double-bogey seven at the second hole and a bogey at the seventh left Yang reeling early and after a birdie at the pae-3 12th, she stumbled again with a bogey at the par-5 15th.

“I couldn’t really control my game. I was just off somewhere,” Yang said. “Everything, even I just try to do like safely, make the fairways and the greens, I couldn’t even do that. It was a tough day.”

But Yang answered with birdies at the par-3 17th and par-4 18th to move one stroke ahead of Hjorth. Yang seeks a wire-to-wire win after having never led after any LPGA round until this week.

“I think I will be, I hope, less nervous tomorrow,” Yang said. “If I get a win it would be great.”

After a cut to the low 70 and ties Saturday morning when the darkness-halted second round was concluded, the field was trimmed to the low 30 and ties after 54 holes, ending the hopes of season-ending awards for some players.

Japan’s Ai Miyazato fired a 71 but missed the cut by a stroke on seven-over 223, dooming her bid for LPGA Player of the Year and the year-end top ranking.

South Korean world number one Jiyai Shin, who made the morning cut, fired a 76 to stand on 228 and also missed out on the top 30, assuring South Korean Na Yeon Choi of the LPGA season money title.

Shin had been the only foe within reach of Choi’s 1.814 million dollars given the event’s 225,000-dollar top prize.

“Any category, if I’m the top one, I would be very happy and very honored, so I’m very happy right now,” Choi said. “It was better than my goal for this year.”

Choi fired a 73 on Saturday to enter the final round seven strokes off the pace.

Four players in Sunday’s final round have a chance to topple Shin from the season-ending world number one ranking - Choi, Kerr, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, who leads the fight for Player of the Year honors.

With points awarded only to top-10 finishers, Tseng enters the final day on top in the Player of the Year race with 188 with Choi on 174 and Kerr at 173.

But Tseng only made the cut on the number while Kerr and Choi were in contention for the winner’s total of 30 points.

“I think Cristie is going to be winning the tournament to take this title,” Tseng said.

If Kerr does, she will become the first American to capture LPGA Player of the Year honors since Beth Daniel in 1994. But Kerr must win to pass Tseng.

“I have to put the awards and all of those different things away and I just have to win,” Kerr said. “We also do need an American to win awards like player of the year and really start to bring the LPGA Tour back to the United States.”

Kerr and Choi also took their fight for the Vare Trophy, awarded for low season scoring average, into the final round.

Pettersen, who has not won all season, fired her third consecutive 73 on Saturday to stand nine strokes behind Yang.

Bureau Report