Kohler, Wis. - Talk about a moving-day shuffle. Shanshan Feng and Danielle Kang started the third round on Saturday in the 10:50 a.m. CDT grouping at 4-over-par 148, tied for 45th place. As Blackwolf Run showed its teeth amid swirling winds, both players turned in rounds of 1-under-par 71, two of only five sub-par rounds on the day. By day’s end, they had moved up 30 spots on the leaderboard.
Kang was the back-to-back winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2010 and 2011, and Feng captured her first major professional victory last month, the LPGA Championship. Their outstanding rounds were accomplished under some duress, as Kang said she was battling severe back pain, which caused her to grimace with each swing.
“When you're playing in windy conditions and it's the U. S. Open, people tend to kind of slow down a little bit, but we were ahead of time,” said Kang, who battled a similar ailment in last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. “You try to keep it under the wind kind of thing, but the greens are firm. So I just tried to adjust to how much green I could work with or how much fringe I could work with.”
Feng, the first Chinese-born player to win a major championship, said the course has firmed up.
“I think I could concentrate a little better without the heat,” said Feng with regard to the previous two days of stifling heat. “And I would say that the greens in the morning are not as bumpy.”
The fellow competitors turned in remarkably consistent rounds, with each recording 13 pars, three birdies and two bogeys.
Creamer Hanging Around
Paula Creamer wasn't in the top 10 when she holed out for a 1-under-par 71. But she was by the time the rest of the field had finished.
Winner of the 2010 U.S. Women's Open, Creamer wasn't altogether happy despite being one of a handful of players to break par at Blackwolf Run. Despite an eagle and three birdies, Creamer suffered a few unforced errors, including a bogey on the last hole when she missed a 5-footer, and came into the clubhouse at 1-over 217.
"I wanted to get in around even. That was my goal ... even or one under," Creamer said. "Obviously, when I woke up this morning and saw it was so windy, I knew even par would be a good score."
Creamer had been struggling mainly with her putting most of the season. After her round Friday, she went straight to the practice green. On Saturday, despite hitting just 10 greens, she salvaged several pars with her putter.
"Yeah, I was there when it was dark on the putting green last night," she said. "It's just a confidence thing, and obviously, you can look at my stats, my putting has been an issue. I've hit the ball great. I've given myself so many opportunities. I was incredibly frustrated yesterday. I haven't been that frustrated for a long time after a round and I had to go grind it out on the putting green. Definitely it helped today. I made some more putts and that was good."
Can she possibly catch the leaders come Sunday?
"I'm a chaser,” Creamer said. “I love chasing, you know, so definitely I have a confidence factor in the fact that I have won a national championship and I can do it again. It's just having some putts fall and getting some good breaks out there."
Pak’s Tough Round
It's highly unlikely that Se Ri Pak will be able to pull off a repeat victory.
Winner of the 1998 U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run, Pak struggled to a 4-over-par 76 in the windy conditions and fell to 5-over 221 for the championship. Pak, 34, converted just one birdie after hitting only nine greens in regulation.
"It was a lot tougher than any of the days," Pak said. "I go out there today, I feel really great swinging and striking, but today is kind of a little off a little bit. But I guess I'm thinking too much wind, so that's affecting a lot my game today. Of course, it was a lot of disappointing round, but I'm still happy to play anyway, so that's good."
All By Herself
The most impressive statistic from Meena Lee’s third-round 4-over-par 76 may have been how expeditiously she played: 3 hours, 17 minutes.
A day after her second round took in excess of six hours to play, Lee was the first of 65 players to tee off in the third round. Given the odd number of players, Lee had the option of playing alone or with a marker.
She chose to go solo.
“It’s the first time I’ve played by myself like that, so it was nice,” said Lee, who was one of 10 players to sit on Friday’s cutline of 5-over 149. Lee, whose best Open finish was a tie for 21st last year, drew the first pairing as a result of being the last player to make the cut number of 149. “You play the same, but you just don’t have the delays and I like that.”
The 30-year-old Korean said her round the might have been lower – and faster – had it not been for the course conditions. The oppressive heat of the first two rounds gave way to whipping winds and cooler temperatures.
“Today was by far the most difficult of the week because the winds were so gusting,” said Paul Martinez, Lee’s caddie.
Yani Tseng and Stacy Lewis, ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, didn’t fare as well as they would have liked on Saturday, shooting a combined 14 over par.
After shooting a 69 on Friday, Lewis followed that up with an 80. She took a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 seventh hole.
Entering the week Tseng said she wanted to enjoy herself. After shooting 72-74, Tseng carded a 78 Saturday. She endured a rough stretch where she bogeyed five of six holes on her outward nine. Still, it wasn’t enough to get her down as she smiled throughout her interview.
“I tried to get comfortable, but I couldn’t,” said Tseng. “The wind wasn’t really an issue, but where they put the pins and holes was.”
“Crazy” Day For Ryu
The U.S. Women’s Open is considered to be as much of a mental test as it is physical.
Defending champion So Yeon Ryu would not debate that, especially after a third-round 2-over-par 74 slipped her to 3-over 216 for the championship.
“Always the U.S. Open make me crazy,” said Ryu, who is playing just her third Open. “That's the problem. This is really challenging course, but it's fun.”
The 74 was Ryu’s fifth in just 11 championship rounds played, and despite going backward she remains within Sunday striking distance of all but the leader as players struggled with the onset of wind.
Last year, at The Broadmoor, the constant inclement weather delays led to a couple of occasions when Ryu played more than 18 holes in a day.
“I think this week it's more mentally tough,” she said. “It’s really hard to keep concentration.”
A familiar face could be seen following Lizette Salas. Nancy Lopez, who never won a Women’s Open in her Hall-of-Fame career, wanted to support a fellow Mexican-American. On the ninth hole, Salas picked up on the former superstar’s presence as she watched from afar in a cart.
“It was just so exciting because I flipped a little bit,” said Salas. “I didn't really get to watch her. And my mom is like, ‘Is that Nancy?’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah.’ And her jaw just dropped. And just to have a Hall‑of‑Famer pushing me and giving me motivation is just awesome. That made my day.”
The two have never met, although Lopez sent Salas two text messages this week.
Ken Klavon is an online editor for the USGA. Dave Shedloski and Stuart Hall are both freelance writers who have previously contributed to USGA websites.