Stupples atop star-studded KNC leaderboard
RANCHO MIRAGE – Minutes before Karen Stupples teed off Saturday in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, caddie Jerry Woodard got in her face for a pep talk to try to calm her nerves.
Stupples, who came into the round one shot behind Song-Hee Kim, said Woodard let her have it.
“He said, ‘I know you’re nervous, you’re supposed to be nervous, this is what we’re here for. You’re playing great. Let’s go and do it. Let’s take it to the course. Rip the drive down the fairway.'”
“I needed that routine,” said Stupples, who responded with a 4-under 68 at Mission Hills to take a one-stroke lead into the final round, with six other majors winners within seven shots.
Stupples, the 36-year-old English star who won the 2004 Women’s British Open, had a 10-under 206 total in the season’s first major.
On Sunday, she’ll be trying to stay ahead of a field that includes majors winners Suzann Pettersen, Yani Tseng, Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb, Kristie Kerr and Grace Park.
Isn’t there a good chance Stupples will have a strong case of the nerves again?
“Honestly, I don’t think they can be any worse than they were this morning,” she said. “In a way, all it will do is make me get out there and enjoy it. Look who I’ve got chasing me. How could I not enjoy that? That’s called life. That’s fantastic. That’s more exciting than I can even tell.”
Pettersen, the first-round leader who seemingly played herself out of contention with a 73 on Friday, and Tseng shot 67s to reach 9 under.
Top-ranked Ochoa, who won this tournament two years ago, rebounded from a slow start with birdies on three of her last seven holes for a 71 to join second-round leader Kim (72) at 7 under.
Webb (72), Kerr (74) and Park (69) also were in the top nine. Webb was alone at 5 under, Kerr was tied with Brittany Lang (69) at 4 under and Park was tied with five others, including Michelle Wie, at 3 under.
Playing with Ochoa, Stupples started strong with four birdies and just one bogey on the front nine to go to 9 under.
Ochoa, who came into the round tied for second, one shot behind Kim, had an uncharacteristically slow start of 2 over on the front nine. She didn’t make her first birdie until the par-14 12th.
Stupples was fired up after rolling in a long birdie putt on the par-3 17th, pumping her left fist four times. Ochoa also birdied No. 17, then birdied the par-5 18th to the delight of the crowd.
Stupples said being paired with the popular Ochoa was “a pretty good atmosphere to play in. It was cool. Very cool.”
Pettersen shot her second 67 of the tournament, with four of her six birdies coming on the back nine.
“Just a few more fairways today than yesterday,” the Norwegian star said. “I put myself in good position to attack some of these pins. The course is drying up a little bit, so if you find the fairway somehow on the par 4s, you have fairly short clubs in your hands, so with certain pin positions, it feels like it’s a green light to attack.
“It was a tough day yesterday, but I managed to hang in there and finish strong, and just continued to solid play today. So it’s going to be a fun day tomorrow.”
Pettersen won the 2007 LPGA Championship. She has two top-10 finishes in three starts this year but also was slowed by a hip injury.
Pettersen has three straight top-five finishes in the tournament.
“I’ve played a lot of good golf around this track,” she said. “Hitting the fairways sets up a lot on this golf course.”
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