Yang keeps three-stroke lead at Open
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.”