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Two Veterans Rediscover That Contending Feeling

By Dave Shedloski

South Hadley, Mass. - They waved to each other Saturday from across two fairways, two players who share the bonds of experience and friendship - and in this 59th U.S. Women's Open they also share a contending status with one round to go.

There may be a youth movement afoot in women's golf, but Meg Mallon and Kelly Robbins, two of the older lionesses stalking the grounds of The Orchards Golf Club, made the biggest moves up the leader board in the third round of an Open championship that doesn't discriminate by age.

 
Meg Mallon sends her approach shot toward the 18th green Saturday. She hit 78 percent of her greens in regulation during the third round at The Orchards. (Sam Greenwood/USGA)

Mallon, the 1991 U.S. Women's Open champion, shot the day's low score, a 4-under-par 67, that gave her a 209 total, three behind the hip, high-octane Jennifer Rosales. Kelly Robbins, runner-up in last year's Open after a playoff loss to Hilary Lunke, also is at 4-under 209 after following up her Friday 67 with a 3-under 68.

Mallon and Robbins, tied for second with reigning McDonald's LPGA champion Annika Sorenstam, shot the two lowest scores on a sunny and warm afternoon, and they moved up the leader board 11 and seven spots, respectively.

It's a scoreboard that includes the 25-year-old Rosales, teen amateurs Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer, who are 1 under and even, respectively, and 22-year-old Candie Kung, a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour last year.

"It's the state of our game, it's a great mix," said Mallon, 41, of the generational complexities of women's golf. "Whether they're young and fearless or more experienced . they both work, and they have worked. and it's fun to see."

"There are kids out here who are fearless. They come out and they play and they're good and they hit it long and putt it well," said Robbins, 34, who won her only major championship in 1995 at the LPGA Championship. "You talk about experience, but sometimes lack of experience and being green is not all that bad. They don't know all the scenarios that can happen."

Robbins said she would still take experience over youth, and she hopes to draw on some during her final-round pairing with Sorenstam.

"Last year and the last couple of years on tour helped me keep my composure today," said Robbins, who shot an impressive 4-under 32 on the more difficult front nine to briefly tie Rosales for the lead before giving a few back. "It's a long road when things aren't going too well."

To have another chance at a U.S. Open title is heartening. "Since last year I've been waiting to get in contention, not just at a U.S. Open," said Robbins, who has finished no worse than 12th in her last four Open starts. "But for whatever reason I'm able to put myself in good contention the last couple of years."

"It's good to see Kelly up there," said Mallon, who would be the third-oldest champion should she win Sunday. "She had such a great Open last year, and I'm sure she has high expectations for this year."

Mallon's expectations have steadily grown throughout the week. She battled to a 2-over 73 in the first round that started without a fairway hit until her 10th hole. "I had to go out and work really hard, but that also got me settled down," she said. "Frankly, my first round was my best round of the week."

Saturday's round was darned effective as Mallon offset two bogeys with six birdies. She hasn't been ecstatic with her putting - this week or all season - but so far she has avoided a three-putt green. Her patience has been exemplary.

"It's my kind of setup," said Mallon, who also has twice been a runner-up in the national Open. "I like the difficult conditions and I like how you have to work the ball around the golf course and use your short game and use all facets of your game. That's why the U.S. Open is my favorite tournament."

The last of Mallon's birdies came at the difficult par-4 16th when she curled in a hard-breaking putt. Playing two groups behind, Robbins also birdied the hole, just as Mallon was trudging up the 18th fairway. They spotted each other, smiled and waved.

"Meg, I think, can find anybody (on a golf course) when she wants to," said Robbins. "Meg was having a good day. When you see someone, they know what's going on, and she obviously saw and heard (my) putt, and she just wanted to let me know. It's just a lot of good respect."

It's respect that comes with experience.

Dave Shedloski is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.uswomensopen.com.