Yang keeps three-stroke lead at Open

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY TONY REID sports@wash­post.com

lan­caster, pa. — Golf be­gan on the Scot­tish links land al­most 500 years ago, but it wasn’t for 200 years that peo­ple started count­ing strokes by the round when they played each other. Be­fore that it went hole by hole, with the low score win­ning. On the next hole, you start again at zero.

That’s known as match play, and it’s the orig­i­nal form of the game. In the mod­ern pro­fes­sional game, match play has all but dis­ap­peared, but it re­turned as Old Tom Mor­ris might’ve imag­ined it in the third round of the 70th U.S. Women’s Open at Lan­caster Coun­try Club. The tour­na­ment started with 156 play­ers on Thurs­day morn­ing, but by Satur­day af­ter­noon it looked as if only two were left to con­tend for the most pres­ti­gious ti­tle in women’s golf.

Amy Yang be­gan the round with a three-shot lead over play­ing part­ner Stacy Lewis, and af­ter they traded shots that felt more and more like body blows all the way around the 6,321-yard course, noth­ing had changed. Each player shot 1-un­der-par 69, and they will stand on the first tee at 2:05 Sun­day af­ter­noon with Yang hold­ing the three-shot ad­van­tage she held when their day be­gan Satur­day.

Yang’s to­tal of202— she opened with rounds of 67 and 66 — is the sec­ond-low­est 54-hole score in the history of the Women’s Open, which was first played in 1946. Juli Inkster, who is com­ment­ing on Yang’s play this week­end from the Fox tele­vi­sion booth, was a shot bet­ter af­ter three rounds in 1999 at Old Waverly in Mis­sis­sippi. Inkster won that Open by five shots, and Lewis ac­knowl­edged af­ter her round Satur­day that the out­come this year is firmly in Yang’s hands.

“Alot of it de­pends on what Amy does,” Lewis said. “She’s got the length off the tee, so she’s hit­ting shorter clubs into the greens. That’s def­i­nitely go­ing to help her. . . . I think I’ve got to get to at least 8 [un­der par], what Amy is at right now.”

It’s not an un­fa­mil­iar po­si­tion for Lewis and one that seems to bring out the best in her ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive per­son­al­ity. At the Opena year ago at Pine­hurst, Lewis trailed Michelle Wie by six shots when the fi­nal round be­gan and lost by two but only af­ter Wie holed a dra­matic down­hill putt at 17 to turn Lewis away. In the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, the first of Lewis’s two ma­jor cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries, she came from two shots be­hind to de­feat Yani Tseng.

One sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween match and medal play is psy­chol­ogy — when it’s one-onone, you not only play golf against your op­po­nent, you play against their mind and their nerve— soit’s not sur­pris­ing that Lewis com­pared Sun­day’s matchup to the one against Tseng in 2011.

“The two of us kind of sep­a­rated our­selves from the field, and it kind of be­came a two-man show there at the end,” she re­called. “I think I was a cou­ple be­hind go­ing into that day as well. I think I’ve al­ways played bet­ter com­ing from be­hind, so I like where I am go­ing into to­mor­row.”

Yang, who was a shot off the lead af­ter the first round, took hold of the tour­na­ment on Fri­day af­ter­noon with four con­sec­u­tive birdies. A vi­o­lent rain­storm swept over the course late Thurs­day, leav­ing it soft and vul­ner­a­ble. In­stead of re­ject­ing them, the slick and di­a­bol­i­cally tilted greens ab­sorbed ap­proach shots, and the big­gest chal­lenge the play­ers faced was hit­ting putts too hard.

But it was clear and hot Fri­day and again Satur­day, so by the time the play­ers went out in the af­ter­noon, the greens had hard­ened sig­nif­i­cantly and shots that stuck the first two days were rolling away.

The faster con­di­tions showed up on the score­board. Other than Chella Choi, who shot 64 in the morn­ing with an Open record 29 on the front side, no one among the 63 play­ers re­main­ing shot bet­ter than 67. Choi’s score missed He­len Al­freds­son’s 21-year-old one-round Open record by a shot.

Be­sides the three strokes, psy­chol­ogy might be Yang’s main ad­van­tage. She claimed not to be aware of any sort of match-play con­di­tions with Lewis, say­ing that she just con­cen­trated on her own game. “I just fo­cused onmy shots,” she said, “and think­ing not so much about any­thing else.”

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