Na Yeon Choi
Na Yeon Choi has matched the best third round in U.S. Women's Open history.
After 54 holes at Blackwolf Run, the No. 3 ranked player in the world from South Korea beat the rest of the field by roughly 12 shots on average as she took a commanding six-shot lead over her closest competitor in an attempt to capture her first major championship.
Choi shot a tournament-best seven-under-par 65 on an afternoon when nearly everyone else went in the opposite direction.
Second-round leader Suzann Pettersen shot a 78. Her playing partner, Michelle Wie, matched Pettersen's six-over-par total. And Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in the world, fell out of contention with her own 78.
World No. 2 Stacy Lewis had an 80. And former U.S. Women's Open champion Karrie Webb stumbled to an 81.
You get the picture. The golf course was playing with the degree of difficulty expected from a U.S. Open track and most of the tournament's participants suffered the consequences of windy conditions on top of firm and fast terrain.
It will take a monumental collapse for Choi to surrender her six-shot lead, but there is a group of capable contenders waiting in the wings for her to do just that.
It's Na Yeon Choi's tournament to lose, but here are six players who could walk away with the 2012 U.S. Women's Open Championship.
Na Yeon Choi had such a good day she's trending on Twitter. I really didn't see it coming. I knew Choi was playing well, but this was almost ridiculous. Ridiculously good.
After opening rounds of 71 and 72, Choi blistered the Blackwolf Run course with eight birdies and only one bogey en route to her outstanding seven-under-par 65 total Saturday.
Her performance was masterful. "NYC" hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, not unlike her first two rounds, but the difference Saturday was in her putting. After 31 and 33 putts, respectively, on Thursday and Friday, Choi had only 26 putts during her third round.
At her post-round presser, she said (h/t asapsports.com) she would stick to what has been working:
I will not change anything. I will just play my game. I'm very excited. This tournament is very special to all the Korean players. Fourteen years ago, Se Ri Pak won the U. S. Open and I remember that feeling. I hope to continue it for me.
It's unlikely Choi will need anything more than an even-par round or even a couple over par to secure this U.S. Open victory. But it is the U.S. Open. And she will have to deal with the pressure that accompanies it, six-shot lead or not.
The only player to really come close to accomplishing what Na Yeon Choi did on Saturday was Amy Yang.
Yang shot an impressive three-under-par 69 that got her to two-under-par for the tournament, alone in second place after three rounds.
Since she will have the distinction of playing with Choi in the final group on Sunday, it will be up to her to apply the head-to-head pressure necessary to somehow try to throw the leader off her game in order to get the rest of the field involved.
Yang is no stranger to the leaderboard in majors. At just 22 years old, she already has six top-10 finishes, with two of those coming at the U.S. Women's Open.
She has gotten consistently better at this U.S. Open with rounds of 73, 72 and 69 and will need to continue that trend if she's going to have any chance of catching Choi.
I could preface every player's chances of winning on Sunday with: If it weren't for Na Yeon Choi...
Well, if it weren't for Na Yeon Choi, 17-year-old Lexi Thompson would be only one shot off the lead on Sunday at the U.S. Women's Open.
That's pretty incredible considering her young age, but Thompson's talent is beyond her years. She was the youngest golfer ever to qualify to play in the U.S. Women's Open and she's the youngest-ever winner in the history of the LPGA Tour.
If Na Yeon Choi can shoot a 65 on this golf course, so can Lexi Thompson. It's entirely possible. Her game is well-suited for a low round at Blackwolf Run.
Thompson followed her opening rounds of 70 and 73 with an even-par 72 Saturday, enough to keep her at one-under-par for the championship and right in the hunt should Choi falter.
Mika Miyazato is hanging in there. And at a major championship when that is sometimes good enough to win, she's in an admirable position. If it wasn't for Choi, that is.
Miyazato followed her matching opening rounds of 71 with a 73 Saturday, good enough for a third place tie.
But like everyone else in the field, she has a lot of catching up to do if she wants to win.
The 22-year-old already has four top-10 major championship finishes to her credit, including a fifth-place at last year's U.S. Open at the Broadmoor.
During her post-round presser she said (h/t asapsports.com):
I can't control the results. I just try to do my best, one shot at one time. That's how I played last year U.S. Women's Open, also. That's so much good experience for me. So, that's a big help.
Miyazato understands her chances of winning are distant. Which means she is more than likely going to have to settle for yet another top-10 finish on her impressive resume. But she has the game to pull off a win with a little help.
If it hadn't been for a rough stretch of four holes on Sandra Gal's scorecard Saturday, she might be a lot closer to the lead than the seven shots she trails by now.
Gal bogeyed three consecutive holes and four of five on her front nine before settling down for a two-over-par 74 total. She dropped to one-under-par for the tournament.
Gal is still developing into the fine player she will one day undoubtedly be. Her best result in a major was at last month's LPGA Championship when she finished T-12. Her career is moving in the right direction, but asking her to make up seven shots in one afternoon is asking too much. Or is it?
Following her round, she assessed the situation (h/t asapsports.com):
I don't know if the conditions are going to be tougher tomorrow or not. I hope not, but whatever the day brings. Obviously there is a 65 out there. So, I think that's a good thing to see because you can look up to that.
Even if Gal does shoot 65 on Sunday, she will need some help from Na Yeon Choi if she's going to pull off a shocking win.
Paula Creamer has what it takes to win a major. She's been there, done that.
Creamer won the 2010 U.S. Open at Oakmont, so the victory is still fresh in her mind. And after a very impressive third round 71 put her at one-over-par overall at this year's version, she's still a threat to win. And she knows it.
Following her round Saturday, she said (h/t asapsports.com):
If I can go out a little bit earlier and make some birdies, you never know what's going to happen.
Of course, she was referring to a four- or five-shot deficit, not a nine-shot difference. But that's why they play the final round. It's a 72-hole tournament.
Creamer's bizarre Saturday scorecard included an eagle, three birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey.
It's not the consistent play we're used to seeing from her, but it might be a sign of stranger things to come.
Of course, it's a long shot—it's a long shot for everyone in the field—but if there's one player that can somehow get into the hunt on Sunday at a major, it's Paula Creamer. Don't count her out.