U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
U.S. Women's Open Set for Dramatic Sunday July 11, 2015 | Lancaster, Pa. By David Shefter, USGA

Stacy Lewis finished runner-up in the 2014 U.S. Women's Open. She hopes to do one better on Sunday. (USGA/John Mummert)

Amy Yang has played in the final grouping three times in the U.S. Women’s Open: once as a 54-hole co-leader and twice as a chaser. Each time the Republic of Korea native has watched a fellow competitor hoist the Harton S. Semple Trophy.

Will the fourth time be the charm?

Yang, 25, is in the driver’s seat in her pursuit of that elusive first Women’s Open title after maintaining her three-stroke advantage in Saturday’s third round at Lancaster Country Club. The owner of six worldwide wins, including two on the LPGA Tour, Yang carded a 1-under-par 69 over 6,321-yard Lancaster Country Club to keep the same margin she enjoyed over two-time major champion Stacy Lewis when the day commenced.

Lewis, 30, could not make up any ground in matching Yang’s 69 for a 54-hole total of 5-under 205. Yang and Lewis are the only players to post three under-70 rounds this week.

While she owns 11 LPGA Tour victories, Lewis has yet to reach the winner’s circle in 2015, including three runner-up and two third-place finishes. That includes a heartbreaking playoff loss to Brittany Lincicome at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major, when Lincicome forced extra holes with an eagle on the 72nd hole.

Yang, meanwhile, has yet to claim a major, but has been in the top 10 in three of her last four Women’s Open appearances. In 2012 at Blackwolf Run, she was in Sunday’s final pairing when countrywoman Na Yeon Choi walked away with the championship. Last year at Pinehurst, she was tied for the 54-hole lead with Michelle Wie, only to see Wie take the title.

Round 3: An Exciting Saturday

Now she’s in a solid position to become the seventh Korean player to win the U.S. Women’s Open since Se Ri Pak started the trend 17 years ago (Inbee Park has won twice).

“I won't think much too much ahead,” said Yang, whose 54-hole total of 202 is the second-lowest in championship history, trailing only Juli Inkster’s 201 in 1999 at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., when she won by five over Sherri Turner. “It will be a big thing for my golf career.

“Me and my coach (Tony Ziegler) have prepared and I’ve practiced. I will go out there and do my best and trust what I practice.”

When asked how she’ll keep herself calm going into what could be the biggest day of her burgeoning career, Yang said she’ll spend time with her parents and her cocker spaniel, named Bori.

“It will just be a relaxed night,” she said.

With the sun in full force for a second consecutive day, the course – especially the greens – firmed up from the first two rounds.

“Today you really had to think more going into the greens,” said Lewis, the runner-up to Wie in 2014. “Balls were releasing out more. You had to play for more release. You really had to play the contours of the green more than we have the last few days.”

It didn’t affect early starter Chella Choi, who posted a championship-best 64 to move into a share of fifth at 2-under 208, joining two-time champion Inbee Park, Mi Hyang Lee and Wie, who carded a second consecutive 68 despite noticeable pain in her hip, an injury she has been battling much of the season.

“I just feel like there’s a knot in it sometimes and [I’m] just trying to get it to go,” said Wie, who hasn’t won since her triumph a year ago at Pinehurst No. 2. “Unfortunately it does get a little bit worse. It’s just a hilly golf course. On flat lies, it’s OK. It’s just on the uphill shots. You kind of saw on 18, I am struggling to get on the left side there.”

Just ahead of that group are In Gee Chun (68), of Korea, and Shiho Oyama (71), of Japan, who are four and five strokes back, respectively.    

They might need to produce a special final round to catch Yang, who hit 15 of 18 greens for the second consecutive day. Outside of a three-putt bogey at the par-4 second, it was a near-flawless round.

Lewis and Yang treated the first nine holes like it was match play with each punching and counter-punching. Yang started by stuffing her approach at No. 1 to 6 feet to set up a birdie, then promptly three-putted the second. It was vice versa for Lewis, who three-putted No. 1, then birdied No. 2 for the third consecutive day.

Each birdied the par-4 fourth and par-3 sixth. Lewis said her 7-iron tee shot to the sixth was one of her best of the day. But she couldn’t make up any ground on the next two holes, missing a 7-foot downhill birdie at the par-5 seventh, and matching Yang’s bogey on No. 8 when she failed to convert a left-to-right sliding 5-foot putt.

Yang and Lewis each produced one birdie on the inward nine – the former on 13 for a third straight day and the latter on 14. But it was clutch par putts by Lewis on 10 and 18 that kept her in Sunday’s final pairing.

“I think it's great golf,” said Lewis of her duel with Yang. “I think we both played really well today given the circumstances, and I expect more of it tomorrow. She's hitting the ball great, so I don't see that changing too much.”

Asked about a target score for Sunday, Lewis said: “I have no idea. I think I’ve at least got to get to 8 [under], what Amy is at right now. But it depends what [the USGA] does with the hole locations. I’ll see what scores look like tomorrow morning and then I’ll probably get a number in my head.”

The only thing on Lewis’ agenda for Saturday night was a lasagna dinner with good friend Natalie Gulbis at their rented house. Some card games were also in the offing; anything to relax and prepare for another major-championship run, one that Lewis has successfully navigated twice.

Yang still is searching for her first.

In 24 hours, everyone will know the outcome.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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