Posted: July 12, 2015 1:57 am
A working-class pro named Chella Choi shot a little 29 on Lancaster Country Club’s front nine Saturday.
A couple hours later, Choi had a birdie putt on the 18th green for a 62, which would have been the best all-gender score in the long, long history of the U.S. Open.
“I was hoping she made it,” said Stacy Lewis, standing on the putting green.
Choi three-putted for 64.
“It’s a lot harder to do it at 2 o’clock than at 9 o’clock (in the morning),” Lewis observed.
Then Lewis went out with Amy Yang in the final group of Saturday’s third round — “moving day,” according to tired golfing cliche.
Nobody moved much.
And now the deck seems clear. It looks like Yang (8-under) vs. Lewis (5-under) for the national championship.
That could be as wrong as everything else This Space has predicted this week, but not by the logic and the numbers.
Other than Lewis and In Gee Chun (4-under), an obscure Korean-tour pro and purported math genius who seemed (through an interpreter) happy just to be here, no one else is within five.
The brand names who aren’t out of it — Inbee Park and Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko and Morgan Pressel — all fired and fell back Saturday. Wie, in particular, showed gumption in limping, on a bad ankle and hip, to a 68 that could have been better.
But they’re all going to need a lot of help.
Yang and Lewis seem unlikely to give it to them.
They’re both ball-strikers, and have missed just 21 of a possible combined 108 greens in regulation so far.
They’ve both been in these spots often enough.
Lewis has been the best American for quite a while now. She seemingly contends every week, although she hasn’t won in over a year now. Exactly a year ago, she was world No. 1.
The first of her two majors, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, came in similar circumstances to today, playing in the final group with Yani Tseng, two shots back, and reeling her in with a 69.
Yang has won just twice on tour, but has three top-fives and three final-group Sundays in the USWO since 2009.
“I’ll go in to (tomorrow) with the same mindset as today,” Lewis said. “If it gets to the back nine Sunday and we’re three ahead of everybody else, it becomes a different ballgame.”
Yang, from South Korea, struggles with speaking and understanding English, but she got her broad point across.
“I just focus on my shots, try not to think too much, trust what I practice,” she said.
Yang started the day three shots clear of Lewis, who was two shots clear of everyone else save Japanese pro Shiho Oyama. The last twosome fired matching 69s with what looked like some match play moments, although both players insisted it was anything but.
Yang birdied one, but bogeyed two. Lewis did the opposite. Both birdied six and bogeyed the brutal par-3 eighth.
On the 10th, Lewis’ chip, poorly conceived and executed, went 20 feet past into the fringe. Lewis drilled that par putt, leaving Yang to stand over a knee-knocking four-footer. Which she brushed in.
Yang birdied 13, a par-5 she’s gotten all three days, but gave it back a hole later. Lewis birdied 14, but gave that back on 17, which made her five-footer for par on 18, and to avoid a bogey-bogey finish, a nervous one.
“You guys were probably rooting for me to make that one,” Lewis said, acknowledging her own temper. “Three shots behind is a lot better than four, for some reason.”
Of course they’re both burning for this championship, but, on the surface, they seem underwhelmed.
Yang went to be greeted by her parents and dog, a cocker spaniel called Boci.
“I usually sleep pretty well,” she said.
Budding Fox TV broadcaster Natalie Gulbis will probably stop by Lewis’ rental, where the gang will play some cards and eat the lasagna Lewis’ mom couldn’t cook the other day when the power went out.
That’s all. The talk about agronomy or parking or shuttles or galleries or the Amish has all boiled off.
One small request for the USGA: Sunday should be the third straight dry, warm day. Yang isn’t super-long, and she hit 6-iron into the supposedly mammoth 18th Saturday. Not epic enough.
Can we please see every effective inch of Lancaster Country Club?
Other than that, the stage is set. From here on out, it’s pure golf.