18-year-old Min takes LPGA lead with third-round 65

Updated: June 9, 2007, 11:00 PM ET
Associated Press

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- Hardly anyone recognized the name Na On Min on the leaderboard, and even more surprising was the number of birdies she strung together Saturday at the LPGA Championship.

LPGA Championship scores

1. Min (-10)
2. Pettersen (-9)
T-3. Park (-8)
T-3. Webb (-8)
5. Pressel (-7)

• Complete scores

When the 18-year-old from South Korea finished a 7-under 65, she was poised to make a name for herself in the record books.

Playing in only her sixth professional tournament and her first major championship, Min ran off four birdies on the last seven holes for the best round this week at Bulle Rock, giving her a one-shot lead over Suzann Pettersen and a chance to become the youngest major champion in LPGA Tour history.

Only 10 weeks ago, Morgan Pressel became the tour's youngest major champion by winning the Kraft Nabisco. Pressel was a decorated amateur, however, and nearly won the U.S. Women's Open two years earlier.

Min didn't even learn to play golf until she was 12. Like other South Korean juniors, she was inspired by the success of Se Ri Pak, whose Hall of Fame career began at this tournament 10 years ago.

"I'm just really excited," said Min, who was at 10-under 206. "This is my first major. I'll do my best to keep focus on each shot."

She will play in the final group with Pettersen, who recovered from two trips into the high grass that cost her three strokes and her torturously slow play -- it took more than 4½ hours as a twosome -- to shoot 71.

Karrie Webb stayed in the mix with a 10-foot par save on the 17th hole and shot 71. She was two shots behind at 208, along with Angela Park (68), another 18-year-old rookie.

Pressel, bidding for the second leg of the Grand Slam, shot 70 and was only three shots behind.

Asked if she knew who Min was, Pressel was honest as ever.

"I did not," she said.

But the score sure got her attention. Wind that brushed off overnight rain stuck around Bulle Rock and made it play as tough as it has all week. Min wasn't the least bit bothered, overcoming a bogey on the par-5 second hole by keeping the ball in play, and close to the hole.

Michelle Wie finished before the leaders even arrived at Bulle Rock, and left unanswered whether she would return. She shot 83, her highest score against men or women since she was in the ninth grade, and was in last place among 84 players. Her left wrist, which she broke during a fall in late January, clearly bothered her and Wie wrapped it in ice after signing her card.

"I really want to play," she said. "I just have to see how it goes tonight."

Among those still with a chance is Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 player in the women's golf. She birdied her last hole for a 69, hopeful it would give her a chance. Moments later, Min finished off her 65 and was five shots clear of Ochoa.

"Five shots is not too far behind. It's been done before," Ochoa said.

Like several players, Ochoa was not too familiar with Min, and for good reason.

She went to South Africa at age 12 to spend two years learning to play golf and speak English, played on the South Korean amateur team and then went to LPGA Q-school as an amateur. She missed her card by two shots and was given non-exempt status.

Min tried Monday qualifying without much luck, and finally made her pro debut in Mexico, where she tied for fifth. Min did well enough at the Sybase Classic and Corning Classic to earn a spot in the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

And she's making the most of it.

She birdied two of the toughest par 3s, Nos. 3 and 12, with putts inside 10 feet and hit 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-4 13th, a hole where Pettersen took one of her double bogeys.

Pettersen, deliberating over every shot and every putt, looked as though she might build a big lead, taking advantage of the wind and her power to birdie two of the first four holes and stretch her margin to three shots. She reached in two at the par-5 second with a 3-wood that hopped out of the rough and up 6 feet onto the green, and a wedge on the fourth spun sideways to 6 feet.

The par 5s were friend and foe, however.

Pettersen went for the eighth green in two, even though the stiff breeze was into her, and it sailed right into grass up to her knees, the lie so buried that she had to stand over the ball and stoop over just to see it. She did well to hack it out across the fairway to the collar or a bunker, chipped nicely to 4 feet but missed the putt and turned birdie into bogey.

As Kim and Min surged ahead of her, Pettersen answered with more power. With the wind at her back and 255 yards to the hole, she hit 3-wood on the 11th and watched it bound onto the green and stop 6 feet behind the cup for eagle, giving her a one-shot lead.

But she pulled a tee shot into high weeds on the 13th and had to take an unplayable lie, leading to double bogey. Pettersen made a birdie on the 17th to at least get her in the final group with a player nobody knows -- for now.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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