RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – If LPGA commissioner Mike Whan – and Golf Channel – were to script the Sunday leader board for the ANA Inspiration they couldn’t come up with anything better that this desert delight. Going into Sunday, 11 players are within three strokes of the lead at the first major championship of the year and that list includes one-name players: Lydia, Michelle, Charley, Ai, Lexi and Suzann among them. At the top of the pyramid at 10 under par is 2014 ANA champion Lexi Thompson, who struggled with the putter but still managed a 69 capped by an eagle on the final hole. One stroke back are Lydia Ko, No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, reigning U.S. Women’s Open champ In Gee Chun and Ariya Jutanugarn. Two behind is Charley Hull with Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, Caroline Masson, Sung Hyun Park and Lee Anne Pace three back at seven under par. The stage is set for a sizzling Sunday after a Saturday that was none too shabby.
“The scoreboard is definitely packed,” said Wie, who’s lone major is the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
“There’s a lot of big names up there, a lot of players that have won major championships, as well,” she said. “So tomorrow is going to definitely be a test.”
Perhaps most impressive on a day of many great shots was Wie’s two-under-par 70. It was a thing of beauty in an ugly sort of way as she played with the heart of a champion gutting it out on a day when she was far from her A game. Michelle visited pretty much every remote corner of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills and still managed to avoid making a bogey. With a right miss flying off a swing in which she barely made a hip turn, protecting against a hip bothered by bursitis last year, Wie scrambled to save pars eight times as she hit only 10 greens. She was four-for-four on greenside bunker saves and knocked in several six-foot par putts with her modified Jack Nicklaus bent-knee squat, needing only 26 putts.
“You know, that’s what major championships are,” Wie said. “You kind of have to grind it out when you're not hitting the ball as well. But I’m very proud of what I did today. I hung in there, had some good birdies, and hopefully give myself more opportunities tomorrow and take advantage of them.”
Thompson, on the other hand, had a miserable day with the short stick, losing the lead after missing putts inside seven feet on Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 12. But she closed in a blaze of glory, making birdies on 15 and 16, when she hit it stiff, missed a short birdie putt on 17 and then hit her second shot from 207 yards to 15 feet with a 5-iron on No. 18 and made the eagle putt to finish off a 69. “I was hitting it well, just couldn’t get the putts to drop,” Thompson said. “It’s always great to finish like that on 18.” Lydia Ko was coolly methodical on her way to a bogey-free 69, hitting 11 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens and using 29 putts. There are few pros anywhere that play with as much joy as she does, and that composure may very well be the strongest part of her game. Let’s see, it’s the final round of the first major of the year and Lexi, 21, Lydia, 18, Charley, 20, and Michelle, 26, are in the mix. Doesn’t get much better than that.