<
>

Lee has one-shot lead after 2-under 70

3/18/2006 - Golf

SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. -- Trailing Sarah Lee by three
strokes in the third round of the Safeway International, Aree Song
planned to play it safe on the par-5 18th hole.

But after Song's 280-yard drive landed in the middle of the
fairway, her caddie, Fred Schuler, talked her into taking a shot at
the pin some 230 yards away. With wind gusting to 25 mph toward a
water hazard near the green, it was a gamble.

"I didn't even really want to go for it, but my caddie
convinced me," Song said.

It turned out to be brilliant advice. Song hit a 3-wood within 3
feet of the hole, then made an eagle putt to slice Lee's lead to a
single stroke heading into the final round. Lee shot a 2-under 70
to finish at 14-under 202. Song also shot a 70.

Song's dramatic shot came at the end of a wind-whipped day on
Superstition Mountain's Prospector Course. Juli Inkster, an LPGA
Hall of Famer whose last tour victory came in 2003, was four
strokes back after 70. Inkster was tied with Michele Redman, who
opened the day tied for 30th but climbed onto the leaderboard with
a 66.

Annika Sorenstam, the two-time defending champion, was tied with
Redman at 4-under 140 after two rounds. But Sorenstam went in the
other direction Saturday, shooting a 3-over 75 to fall out of
contention. Her bid for a third straight Safeway International
title all but ended with three bogeys on the front nine, and she
said she didn't bother checking the leaderboard as her round wore on.

"I thought I had plenty to do on my own," said Sorenstam, tied
for 53d at 1-under 215. "I was trying to focus on my own game and
trying to make some birdies."

Birdies were hard to come by on a day that reminded some golfers
of Scotland, with scudding clouds and sailing golf balls.

"I think today really tested a lot of nerves and a lot of
golf," Song said. "Pars were good scores today."

The final round could be an even bigger test. Forecasts call for
a 60 percent chance of rain and temperatures are expected to hover
in the 50s -- conditions typically associated with golf in Scotland,
not Arizona.

It will be no surprise if the tournament is decided on the 18th
hole, which has produced theatrics each of the last two days. A
year ago, the 18th was the scene of Sorenstam's sudden-death
playoff victory over Lorena Ochoa.

"Eighteen is a great finishing hole," Song said. "You have to
hit two great shots and set it up for an eagle. It's not like you
can close your eyes and hit a drive. You have to really set up
there and hit it down the middle. And maybe your caddie can
convince you to go for it if you're not sure."

Lee went for it on Friday, eagling the 18th to leapfrog Song and
take a one-shot lead through two rounds. But on Saturday Lee left
her approach shot in the rough, then pitched about 20 feet past the
hole. She two-putted for par.

"I know I can't hit a perfect shot every time," Lee said.

Lee jumped out to a three-stroke lead over Song with birdies on
the par-5 second hole and the par-4 third. But just as it appeared
that Lee was going to run away, she bogeyed the 10th and 11th
holes, both par-4s, allowing Song and Inkster to climb within two
shots. Lee pushed her lead back to three with a birdie on the par-5
13th.

Sunday won't be the first time Song and Lee have teed off in the
final group in an LPGA Tour event. In the 2004 Nabisco
Championship, they formed the last group with Grace Park, the
eventual winner. Song finished second, a stroke back, while Lee
tied for eighth.

Neither Lee, a five-year LPGA veteran from South Korea, nor
Song, a Thai in her third LPGA season, has won a tour event.

"I expect to win," Lee said.

Inkster has 30 LPGA victories, including seven majors, but has
not won a tour event since 2003. She said she corrected her
backswing this winter, and she's seeing the results this week.

"I want to win," Inkster said. "That's what I'm out there to
do. The last couple of years I've struggled with my swing and I
just didn't think I could win because I wasn't hitting it good for
four days. I'd hit it good for a couple days and my swing would go
awry. This year, I feel like I can put my swing together for four
days and keep things going."