Breakdown or Breakthrough for Sunday at the Michelob ULTRA?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IMay 9, 2009

WILLIAMSBURG, VA - MAY 09 : Natalie Gulbis hits her tee shot on the 6th hole during the third round of the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill Resort on May 9, 2009 in Williamsburg, Virgina. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

With two rounds to go, the result already seemed a forgone conclusion.

After all, Lorena Ochoa was the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world and already coming off a victory in the Corona Championship.

Coming into Kingsmill, a place where she has already turned in three second-place finishes in six years, this appeared to be the year she would break through just as Annika Sorenstam had done the year before.

On an early Thursday morning where the wind was up and the rain was coming down most players were scrambling just to make par.

Ochoa was shooting a 64 to take the first round lead at seven under.

On Friday when the temperature heated up so did her putter.  Even with a bogey on her last hole of the day, Ochoa entered this weekend with a three-stroke lead and all the momentum in the world.

The media was already preparing for a coronation.

The players, however, were not so cordial.

Cristie Kerr, a former Michelob ULTRA winner in her own right, scoffed at the idea she was playing for second despite the deficit.

Looks like she knew what she was talking about.

A round of 66 on Saturday by Kerr and a shocking 74 by Ochoa has flipped the tournament upside down heading into the final round on Sunday.

Kerr is tied for the lead with Australia's Lindsey Wright, Ochoa has fallen all the way into a three-way tie for fifth.

How did this happen?

The truth is that there is a thin line between breakdown and breakthrough in golf.

Ochoa, who had been the picture of perfection all week long, began to look human on Saturday.

Her irons were not as crisp, her putter was not as hot and her decision-making began to wear.

Ochoa, playing with a different caddie this week, had a defining moment on 14. After flinging her second shot over the green, she left her third shot short and it rolled back down the hill near her original divot.

Another chip landed just short of the green and Ochoa was lucky to knock in a putt just to save double bogey.

By the time Ochoa ended 14 she had gone from co-leader to four strokes off the pace.

One foot here or there and Ochoa probably could have saved par.  Instead she was heading towards a back nine 39.

Kerr, playing alongside Ochoa, took advantage of her position with an excellent putting performance on the back nine.

Kerr had seven birdies on Saturday, including three on the last four holes. 

Her experience on these tricky greens has shown as the 2006 champion continues to aggressively play the damp course which rewards those players who will attack the flag-stick.

Aggressiveness can cost you but Kerr has done a great job of picking her pins to attack and willing to shake off the bad shots when they occur.

Will Kerr become the first repeat champion at Kingsmill golf course?  Not if Wright has anything to say about it.

Wright is riding a wave of momentum of her own since her final round 66 at the first major of the year for the LPGA left her with a fourth place finish.

That round of 66 tied her career best on the LPGA until this week where she already notched up rounds of 65 and 64 on Saturday.

Wright finished strong in large part due to her fellow playing partners.

On 16, Wright had a long putt for birdie leaving her about a three footer for par that everyone in the field kept missing to the left. 

When her playing partner In-Kyung Kim made that mistake moments before, Wright played the good pupil and was able to knock it in and keep the round going.

On 17, Wright followed the lead of Yani Tseng who had a similar putt behind the green and was able to knock in a long range birdie that took her to 15 under par for the tournament.

Those kind of breaks can lead the Aussie to a big breakthrough in 2009.

Wright and Kerr may be the co-leaders heading into Sunday's final round but with these soft greens and numerous low rounds available, many big names are still in contention.

For example, most males are going to have their eyes (as always) on Natalie Gulbis.  Gulbis was finally able to get the "best player to have never won a tournament" title off her back but she has struggled with injuries and inconsistency for quite some time thereafter.

This victory would help propel her into the summer and, just like Suzann Petterson before her, could spell a major championship on the horizon.

Gulbis is playing with a completely different set of clubs after having gone through extensive work with Taylor Made for new irons.  The work has apparently paid off as Gulbis has done very well striking the ball this week.

Gulbis had a slow start to the week but she has just one bogey on her scorecard in her last 39 holes and ten birdies the last two rounds.

If she can avoid anymore blemishes she has the game to go low on Sunday.  Even though she is five strokes off the pace, Ochoa proved that no lead is safe on this golf course.

In-Kyung Kim and Song-Hee Kim are one and two shots off the lead respectively and both could be in great position to pick up the win. 

In-Kyung Kim has already won on tour and seems to be seriously overlooked so far this week.  Kim has had some amazing stretches on this golf course, shooting a 30 on the back nine on Friday.

The key for In-Kyung Kim will be missing her shots in the right places, certain areas of this course have bogey written all over their face.  If Kim can avoid them, she will be holding the trophy on Sunday.

Song-Hee Kim had a 63 on Friday but seemed a bit off on Saturday.  At points she seemed to struggle with some of her shots but her great short game has kept her in it. 

Then, of course, there is Ochoa.  The greatest golfer in the women's game may be down but not out.  With the weight of expectations off her shoulders, can she shoot a great round and put the pressure back on Kerr and Wright?

Ochoa understands the importance of this "fifth major", the list of champions read like a "who's who" list of this decade.  While she was off today, it still seemed like she was moments from finding her groove and getting back to making birdies.

No one would be foolish to count Ochoa out but it will require her to get off to a fast start.

Ochoa is 6 under for the first five holes this week, but she has gone 11 straight holes since a birdie.

Sunday will be a big day for many of these young ladies tomorrow, will it be the breakthrough for someone seeking validation?

Will it be a breakdown like we saw today where the leader simply could not put things together?

Many names on the leader-board have the game to make their big break come true, but no matter how hard you knock the door will only open for one lucky player.

Happy Mother's Day!


    Emergency 9: Fantasy golf advice from the final round of The Honda Classic

    Golf logo

    Emergency 9: Fantasy golf advice from the final round of The Honda Classic

    via PGATour

    Justin Thomas proves perfect in playoffs after Honda Classic win

    Golf logo

    Justin Thomas proves perfect in playoffs after Honda Classic win

    via PGATour

    Justin Thomas wins Honda playoff, beating Luke List

    Golf logo

    Justin Thomas wins Honda playoff, beating Luke List

    via PGATour

    Honda Classic: Justin Thomas wins eighth PGA Tour title after play-off

    Golf logo

    Honda Classic: Justin Thomas wins eighth PGA Tour title after play-off

    BBC Sport
    via BBC Sport