Eight players within 5 shots of Steinhauer
Day 3 of the LPGA State Farm Classic's Panther Creek Era saw the golf course, with perhaps one exception in Michele Redman, become less and less cooperative with the 75 survivors of the tournament's first 36 holes.
"I think the greens are firming up and there were tougher pin placements today," said defending champion Annika Sorenstam after posting a 1-under-par 71 Saturday. "I thought it was a little more difficult today."
But Sherri Steinhauer, for the third day in a row, managed to stay just ahead of the pack. A 1-under 71 placed the Madison, Wis., native one stroke ahead of Australia's Rachel Hetherington and two up on Redman and Cristina Kim.
Redman got in position thanks to a tournament-best, 8-under-par 64 on Saturday, when just 11 of the 75 golfers broke 70 and wind-swept Panther Creek Country Club did not allow a single eagle. Hetheringon had a 67, while Kim matched Steinhauer's 71.
With 18 holes left to play today, the 22-year tour veteran Steinhauer has a chance for the second wire-to-wire triumph of her career. She tees off with Hetherington and Kim at 9:57 this morning on the No. 1 tee, with the LPGA shooting to wrap things up just before 3 p.m. for The Golf Channel's telecast.
But Steinhauer, who said she led from start to finish in her first career victory in the 1992 du Maurier Classic, knows it won't be easy for that history to repeat today. There are eight players within five shots of the lead, which was the deficit Sorenstam faced entering the final round at The Rail last year.
Sorenstam roared back with a final-round 62 to win by two strokes, and she's just three back after shooting a 71 Saturday.
"Oh, yeah, you know, I'm going to have to shoot a low round tomorrow, depending on the wind conditions," Steinhauer said. "I'm assuming it's going to blow, but it's not going to howl or anything.
"I would assume the scores are going to be low, and there's a lot of players up there. It's up for grabs tomorrow."
Steinhauer, aiming for her first victory since last year's Women's British Open, also is being chased by Becky Morgan of Wales (69 Saturday for 207 total), rookie-of-the-year front-runner Angela Park (69 for 208), Marcy Hart (71 for 208) and South Korea's Joo Mi Kim (69 for 209).
Pat Hurst, the 2005 Classic champion, tied Hetherington for Saturday's second-lowest round (67) and is among seven tied at 210.
Kim, who held the lead for a short time on the front nine Saturday and stayed at or near the top throughout, said yet another wind shift gave the players another version of Panther Creek. The wind was out of the northeast the first two days, but it was more out of the east for Round 3.
"I'd say the wind was probably 30 to 45 degrees east of where it was (Friday)," said Kim, who finished second in Portland, Ore., last week. "So that made it a completely different golf course. It changed everything dramatically, a lot more shots where you had to play left-to-right wind or right-to-left, as opposed to straight down or straight into.
"So it was kind of tough out there. The greens were firmer. The pins were in some difficult spots. But you know, I still went out and had a great time, had a great group, so it was a lot of fun."
It was tough going early for Steinhauer, who experienced her first two-bogey round of the tournament. Her first came on the par-3 second hole, where she three-putted, and the second came on No. 10, where she could not get up and down to save par.
"I just wasn't comfortable over my putts in the beginning," said Steinhauer, who uses a pendulum putter. "I was having trouble with my setup and that's what I've been doing so well the first couple of days.
"I had a talk with my caddie, Joe (Connolly), on the 11th hole and I said, 'Joe, I know it's right there. We're so close and they are going to start dropping.' And they did. So that was a real confidence-builder at the end, but I've got some work to do this afternoon on the putting."
Steinhauer made an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 13th hole, followed by a 12-footer on the par-3 14th. She then used a 7-wood to reach the par-5 16th green in two, and two-putted for another birdie.
She then made a par-saving, 8-foot putt on the par-3 17th after hitting her tee shot into the front bunker.
"Sherri is just playing very solid," said Sorenstam, who played with Steinhauer and Kim in the final threesome followed by one of the biggest third-round Classic crowds in recent memory.
"I would say, you know, she had some great saves at times, and when she hit it close, she made birdies. She had a good round today."
Hetherington, an 11-year tour member who's seeking her first win since 2003, on Saturday had her first bogey-free round of the tournament. Playing two groups ahead of Steinhauer, the Australian had four front-nine birdies highlighted by a 20-foot putt on No. 5. Her lone back-nine birdie was a two-putt from the fringe on No. 16.
Hetherington said improved putting has been a key to her charge this week. She had just 25 putts on Saturday and 26 Friday.
"This week, I've putted much better and I've been using a Yes! putter for probably over a year now, and I love them," Hetherington said. "My putter is an Abby putter and I've just been, you know, kind of working on the tempo of my putting stroke and kind of getting the ball rolling.
"Obviously I've worked very hard to get back to that position, I guess, and this week it's happened for me. You know, I'm going to draw on my experience and just keep trusting the work that I've done that's helped me finally get to this position."
Sorenstam on Saturday did not have the four-birdie burst that launched her Friday 65. Her high points were long, back-to-back birdie putts on Nos. 8 and 9 that got her within one stroke of the lead.
"I'm glad that, you know, the round still kept me in there," said Sorenstam, seeking her first victory since last year's triumph at The Rail. "That's been the hardest part this year, putting together four solid rounds. I've had a tough time with the third round, but now today I've had a decent round.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully posting a low round."
That's exactly what Steinhauer's aiming for today as well. She'd love to get a victory with her parents in attendance. Fritz and Nancie Steinhauer also were in Canada when
Sherri got her first win 15 years ago.
Sherri said her mother is suffering from macular degeneration, which has affected her vision severely.
"It's getting progressively much, much worse," Sherri said. "So she basically, even when we sit at home at the kitchen table, she just sees an image. She doesn't see my face.
"So, you know, when she's out there, she doesn't see the ball or anything. But she just enjoys being out there and Dad lets her know what's going on."
Dave Kane can be reached at 788-1544 or email@example.com.