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Rosales Rosy

She Increases Lead While Mallon, Robbins, Sorenstam Within Striking Distance

By Ken Klavon, USGA

South Hadley, Mass. - On moving day at the 59th U.S. Women's Open Jennifer Rosales decided to stay put, a former champion of yesteryear came out of nowhere to challenge and two familiar faces moved within striking distance.

Rosales, leader after the second round at the 6,473-yard par-71 Orchards Golf Club, proved steady in carding a 2-under-par 69 for a three-day total of 7-under 206. Her score was the fifth-lowest after 54 holes in a Women's Open.

On Saturday Kelly Robbins made a push toward the top of the leader board. Last year she earned the right to play in the playoff. (John Mummert/USGA)

She holds a three-stroke lead on 1991 Open champion Meg Mallon, Kelly Robbins and two-time Open winner Annika Sorenstam, all of whom have registered 4-under 209s thus far.

On Sunday, all will be playing the role of chaser, trying to capitalize on scoring opportunities when the course offers it. Sorenstam, who has been in contention in the fourth round last year and in 2002, said it didn't matter whether she'd be paired with Rosales before throwing out a subtle challenge.

"I've been in so many situations through the years; I've been leading, I've been chasing, I've been in the last group, you name it, I've tried it all," said Sorenstam, who carded four bogeys Saturday, three more than the previous two rounds. "I know what I have to do [Sunday]. I'm going to be watching the leader board, I've got to go low. Maybe it's better that I'm not with her. I will post a low score first and we'll see what happens."

Incidentally, the pairings were released later and Rosales will be playing with Mallon.

Said the 25-year-old Rosales, who held a final-round lead once in her career, at the 2002 Weetabix Women's British Open: "Annika is Annika. . she is going to try to win this bad. But I told myself, 'Jen, just try to play hard [Sunday] and never look back; just keep looking forward, just one shot at a time.'"

If the 41-year-old Mallon can win Sunday, she would become the third-oldest player behind Babe Zaharias (1954) and Juli Inkster (2002) to hold the U.S. Women's Open Championship Cup.

Annika Sorenstam shot 1-under 70 Saturday to stand three strokes behind leader Jennifer Rosales. (Sam Greenwood/USGA)

The Massachusetts-born Mallon, holder of three majors, had the lowest round Saturday, grinding to a 4-under 67. The keys to her round were four holes -- Nos. 6, 9, 15 and 16 - that she birdied for the first time in the championship. For the first time all week she thought her putter finally acted as a complement, instead of a deterrent, to her game.

It appeared the putter wasn't going to cooperate early, on the 502-yard par-3 third hole. She butchered a three-footer for a potential birdie. But after that, her stroke came to life with six one-putts. On the renowned par-4 16th, which has played as one of the top two most difficult holes this week, Mallon guided in an 18-footer for birdie. A look of surprise and embarrassment colored her face.

"It was funny because [Friday] I hit it to about 10 feet and I played a 6-, 7-foot break and I missed it by 4 feet," said Mallon. "So I thought, 'Well, I'm just going to throw it out a little farther today and it went in. And that's [when] you know it's your day, and it's fun."

Except in the case of Rosales' hold on first, the scoreboard fluctuated more than a Wall Street stock ticker. With four birdies on the front, Robbins moved into a tie for the lead at 5 under. But back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11 dropped her back.

On both those holes she overshot her approach and watched her ball bound into the gallery. She had two wrong clubs in both cases. But she took a positive out of getting up and down for a bogey on 11.

For what it's worth, she's pleased with having a chance at the title again. Last year she lost in a playoff. On Sunday Robbins will be vying for her second career major, the first coming in 1995 at the LPGA Championship.

"Since last year I've been waiting to get in contention, not just at the U.S. Open," said the 34-year-old Robbins. "But for whatever reason, I'm able to put myself in good contention the last couple of years."

In Rosales' case, her experience can be linked to the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship, her first career victory, earlier this year and three top-15 finishes in four Women's Opens. On a tangential note, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo held a parade for Rosales when she won the Chick-Fil-A tournament in May.

If she was bothered by nerves Saturday, she didn't let on even if Sorenstam was one group ahead. It did start ominously with a bogey on the first hole. After that a dam of pressure built as she went deeper into the round. But she was able to maintain composure by simply giving herself a chance.

On the par-5 13th, which has given up 24 eagles and 163 birdies through three rounds, Sorenstam eagled to move within a stroke of Rosales at 4 under. Rosales, aware that Sorenstam had just eagled to tighten the noose, knocked her second shot to 8 feet left of the hole. She pulled the putt left, but kept it close to eventually card birdie.

"I just told myself, 'Play your game, Jen, and make birdies,'" said Rosales.

The cat-and-mouse game continued. When Sorenstam could only par No. 16, she glanced over from the 17th teeing ground to see Rosales' approach shot stop 6 feet right of the hole. Sorenstam turned away muttering to her caddie. Rosales followed by draining the putt to hard fist pumps. Adrenalin started to creep in toward the end.

"I was kind of nervous at the end a little bit, on the finishing holes," said Rosales, who missed one fairway. "But I told myself I did a pretty good job on the last few holes and hopefully I'll get it done [Sunday]."

One other player who stayed in contention was 14-year-old Michelle Wie, firing an even-par 71 to stand six strokes off the lead. A double bogey on the final hole could prove costly. And with a 6-over round Sunday, defending champion Hilary Lunke was 14-over for the championship.

Ken Klavon is the Web Editor for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at kklavon@usga.org.