A shrinking list of challengers all made costly bogeys on the 18th hole, allowing Annika Sorenstam to get out of the sweltering sun with a two-stroke lead Saturday in the U.S. Women's Open at Hutchinson, Kan.
She says the tournament is far from over.
It sure doesn't look that way.
Prairie Dunes might have met its match in Sorenstam, who lived up to her reputation as the most dominant player in women's golf with her third consecutive round of par or better, this time a one-under 69 to take a two-stroke lead over Jill McGill and Juli Inkster.
The 31-year-old Swede, who already has won half of her 12 tournaments this year including a major championship, hit every fairway and missed only three greens on a course that demands precision at every turn.
She seized control with a 12-foot birdie on the tough, 400-yard 16th hole after a booming drive that split the fairway and an eight-iron into the green.
Sorenstam finished at 208, the only player still under par.
And she sounds like she's just warming up.
"I'm hitting the ball as well as I can," Sorenstam said. "I know my game is good enough to win, so I don't worry about everyone else."
She might not have to.
Sorenstam will be paired with McGill, best known for turning down an offer to pose for Playboy magazine. McGill has never won on the LPGA Tour, and today will be her first time in the final group--at the biggest championship in women's golf, no less.
She is in contention after shooting a 69, which included a round-saving bogey after hitting into waist-high weeds on No. 13 and a disappointing bogey on the final hole that dropped her to 210.
Along with trying to contain her nerves, McGill will be playing with someone who has had to hit out of the rough only once in the last two days.
"She's a machine," McGill said. "I wouldn't expect her to make any drastic mistakes."
Also at 210 is Inkster, who can thank her brilliant short game for still having a chance. She hit only eight greens and escaped with a 71. Seven par saves--four from the six-foot range--kept alive her hopes of becoming the Open's oldest champion. Fay Crocker was 40 years, 11 months when she won in 1955.
"I keep telling myself that I'm close," the 42-year-old Inkster said. "I think I'm going to have to go with what I've got. I have to play better."
The problem they face is that Sorenstam has the same objective.
"My game plan is to hit every fairway and every green," Sorenstam said, "and not worry about anything else."
Shani Waugh of Australia also stayed in the picture, thanks to a 30-foot eagle putt on No. 7 and solid play along the back nine until a bogey on 18 dropped her to a 71. She was at one-over 211 and will play with Inkster.
Those might be the only players with legitimate chances. Michele Redman holed a 155-yard shot from the ninth fairway for eagle, but she had two short lip-outs on the back nine and finished with a 73, five strokes behind.
Laura Diaz, who started the third round tied for the lead at one under with Sorenstam and Inkster, bogeyed four of five holes in the middle of her round and shot 77.
The wind wasn't nearly as strong as it had been the previous two rounds as thunderstorms threatened throughout the day.
Inkster is still in the hunt despite not hitting the ball where she wants it to go. She didn't hit a green in regulation until No. 4, and spent most of the afternoon making one clutch par putt after another.
"It just takes one or two good shots, and I'm on my way," Inkster said.
The question is whether that will be enough to catch Sorenstam.
Robert Allenby followed an eagle on the par-five 15th with a birdie and shot a seven-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead in the third round of the Western Open at Lemont, Ill.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow," said Allenby, the 2000 champion, who was at 15-under 201 after 54 holes. "I'm feeling pretty comfortable and confident with the way I'm playing."
Neal Lancaster was at 203 after a five-under 67. Jerry Kelly and Bob Estes were at 204, and Davis Love III and second-round leader John Cook were at 205.
"Eleven under with one round to go, I'm still in pretty good shape," said Love, who had birdies on his last two holes to stay in contention.
Stuart Appleby held the lead at 13 under through 11 holes, but his second shot on the par-four 13th missed the green, rolled downhill, across a cart path and finally settled behind three trees.
He had a double bogey on the hole and is at 206, five strokes behind Allenby.
Michael Campbell birdied the 18th to take a one-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington and Paul Lawrie after three rounds of the European Open at Straffan, Ireland.