Jones has two-shot lead, Americans fill top four
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Rosie Jones insists she still knows how to win, even if it's been two years since she last hoisted a trophy at the 18th hole.
Jones birdied three of the last eight holes Saturday to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Asahi Ryokuken International.
"I don't feel like it has been two years since I won,'' the 43-year-old Jones said. "I've played a lot of good golf since then.''
Her experience showed as Jones, who has led at the end of each round, shot a 3-under 69 and was among a handful of golfers to shoot under 70 on a day when the heat, swirling winds and tough pin placements sent scores soaring at the Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club.
Jones was at 13-under 203, followed by Laura Diaz at 11 under. Wendy Ward was three strokes behind the leader, and Pat Hurst was four back. Diaz shot a 69, while Ward and Hurst both had a 71.
The top four spots were held by Americans, who are hoping to end a streak of 17 straight LPGA Tour victories by foreign-born players. Meg Mallon was the last U.S. player to win on tour, at the Canadian Women's Open in August.
Rookie Lorena Ochoa (69) of Mexico was at 8 under, and defending champion Janice Moodie (71) of Scotland was at 7 under.
With six women within six shots of the lead, the title could be up for grabs Sunday if the course keeps getting harder, Diaz said.
"It'll be a matter of how aggressive everyone wants to be and how many birdies they're going to make,'' said Diaz who won twice last year.
Jones gave the other golfers room Saturday when her short game suddenly turned shaky. She two-putted nearly every hole on the front nine, but neither Ward nor Diaz could make much of a run.
Jones finally got her putter going with a birdie on No. 11, breaking a string of 10 consecutive pars. She then birdied the 12th to take a one-shot lead at 12 under.
But Jones said the key to her round came at the eighth hole, when she hit a tough putt for par. It was her only one-putt green on the front nine. "That kept me in there,'' said Jones, who last won at the Sybase Big Apple Classic in July 2001.
Ward, Jones' playing partner Saturday, took the lead on No. 4 with a difficult sidehill birdie, and she extended her advantage to two strokes when a birdie on the par-5 sixth put her at 12 under. But she three-putted on No. 8 to fall back to 11 under.
Meanwhile, Diaz began her charge with a birdie on the par-5 ninth to go to 10 under, followed by a birdie on the 11th to tie her for the lead.
Diaz nearly eagled the 16th, hitting her chip off the flagstick before tapping in for birdie. But she gave the stroke back on the 17th, when she two-putted.
Diaz is playing on an injured left tendon. She received sonic shock therapy Monday and has worn an ankle brace during the tournament, but said the ankle hasn't bothered her much this weekend.
By far the most exciting round belonged to the rookie Ochoa. She briefly tied for the lead when her eagle at nine put her a record-tying 6-under 30 for the front nine and 11-under for the tournament. She nearly had a double-eagle on the hole when her approach from 190 yards out stopped just inches from the cup.
But as quickly as she heated up, Ochoa cooled -- bogeying the 10th and 11th, and after a birdie at 12, doubled-bogeying the 13th.
Ochoa would get her only par on the back nine at the 14th, and split bogeys and birdies on the final four holes to end the day at 8-under.
Hurst had a triple-bogey on the eighth but fought back to shoot a 1-under 71 for the day.
Patricia Meunier-Lebouc had the low round Saturday -- a bogey-free 67 -- to move to 5 under, eight shots behind Jones.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press