Stanford pads Franklin lead with help of reliable putter

Updated: May 6, 2006, 5:42 PM ET
Associated Press

FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- It's been so long since Angela Stanford won on the LPGA Tour that she's nearly forgotten how she did it.

"People say when you've won it seems like it should be easier when you're in that position," Stanford said. "But it's been three years since I won. I'm a big believer in you have to learn how to win. I feel like I might be learning all over again almost."

Stanford, a wire-to-wire winner in the 2003 ShopRite LPGA Classic for her lone tour title, had her putter working Saturday, shooting a 6-under 66 to build a four-shot lead after three rounds of the Franklin American Mortgage Championship.

A stroke ahead entering play Saturday on the Vanderbilt Legends Club's Ironhorse Course, Stanford had 27 putts in a seven-birdie, one-bogey round that featured five straight birdies to put her at 18-under 198.

Cristie Kerr (66) and Sophie Gustafson (68) were tied at 202. Pat Hurst (66), who won on this course in 2000, was tied at 203 with Patricia Meunier-Lebouc (70) and Ji Yeon Lee (67). Lorena Ochoa (67) and Karrie Webb (70) were at 205.

"She's known to play well from start to end," Hurst said of Stanford.

Kerr, a six-time winner who has five top 10s and tied for second at Orlando two weeks ago, fixed her stance after working with her coach.

She said being a couple shots back wasn't bad.

"It's not easy playing with the lead. I'm going to sleep well tonight and come out and, you know, if I'm firing on all cylinders, I'll be firing at the pin," Kerr said.

Stanford started a little shaky with six straight pars protecting a one-stroke lead. She got herself going by blasting out of a greenside bunker on the par-5, 470-yard seventh, then sank the 8-foot birdie putt to give herself a two-stroke edge.

She birdied the next four holes, including a 20-footer on No. 9 -- the same hole and nearly the same distance from which she three-putted for bogey Friday.

Her birdie string ended with a 9-foot putt that jumped over a little bump and rolled around the lip before falling in on the par-4 11th, prompting a soft "Wow" because she thought she had hit the ball too hard and too right.

"It was one of those moments where you think, `Wow, this might be my week,"' Stanford said.

Stanford didn't credit herself with having found rhythm with her putter. Instead, she said she faced straighter putts.

"At least I can think of three off the top of my head today that were fairly straight. So when you get a straight putt, you just kind of take it back and swing it through. So I felt like the degree of difficulty with our putts wasn't very high today," she said.

Stanford gave back a stroke on the par-4 13th and got it back on the par-4 15th. She concluded with a short birdie putt on the par-5 18th.

Going into Sunday with rain in the forecast, Stanford said she is very confident but plans to protect her lead by playing smart.

"It's going to be one of those days where I want people to catch me. I don't want to do anything that's going to force me to back up," she said. "I'm going to make as many pars as I can, and if I can throw in a few birdies I'm going to be happy with that.

Christina Kim had the day's best round, a 64 that moved her to 9 under and a tie for 13th. ... Hurst wanted a newspaper, not a beverage, at the end of her round. The reason? To get the daily sodoku puzzle. ... Webb eagled her final hole to get to 11 under. She has finished first with two seconds in her last three events.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press