World's best in hot pursuit of Titleholders victory
ORLANDO, Fla. -- In many ways, the Titleholders' 54-hole leaderboard is vintage LPGA, the perfect projection of how women's professional golf wants to be seen: worldly.
The tour that has gone global, boasting a roster and schedule that uses more flags than the United Nations, has gathered its world superpowers. Going into Sunday's final round of the season's final tournament, paced by co-leaders Hee Young Park of South Korea and Germany's Sandra Gal, six golfers representing five countries are packed within three shots. Even better, the four players providing the hottest chase are all ranked among the world's top seven.
"A lot of good players up there, obviously," Gal said.
The 24-year-old Park, seeking her first LPGA victory, shot 69, and Gal, a first-time winner earlier this year, carded 71 to share the lead at 7 under.
One shot back is Norway's world No. 2 Suzann Pettersen (68), with No. 7 American Paula Creamer (71) two behind. World No. 1 Yani Tseng (66) and No. 4 Na Yeon Choi (75) are tied for fifth at 4 under.
"Bring it on," Pettersen said. "I don't really care who's up there, to be honest."
She might before Sunday's final round is over.
The Grand Cypress course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, ranks as one of the toughest tracks of the year, demanding accuracy and ball placement along with the task of testy, undulating greens. Add steady winds that helped hold Saturday's sub-par rounds to 10 from a field of 60 players and the stage is set for the best players to shine.
"Definitely. I mean if you win tomorrow, you beat the best players in the world right now," Creamer said. "They're all at the top, so it's a battle of will. It's a battle of getting the job done, and Yani is right there. But, yeah, that's what you want."
In case anyone needed a reminder -- doubtful, but, in theory, possible -- why Tseng is world No. 1 and LPGA Player of the Year for the second consecutive year, the 22-year-old phenom responded with a 6-under 66 that equaled the week's low round.
After 36 holes, the winner of 11 worldwide events this year was 2 over par and tied for 21st, nine shots out of the lead. Now, she will begin final-round play 4 under and easily within striking distance.
"When I went out today, I told my caddie, 'How about let's have a bet?'" Tseng said. "'I've been playing terrible the first two days. How about we play for $100 if I make 3 under?' He's like, 'Come on, world No. 1, you should play better than that.'
"I played bad on the first two days. Today I won. It was really nice. I'm really happy and proud of myself. I mean, 6 under on this golf course with these conditions is not that easy. I played really good today."
Yet, all the world-ranked firepower still must chase down Park and Gal.
Gal, 26, who joined the LPGA in 2008 after coming to the U.S. to play college golf at Florida, won for the first time earlier this year, holding off Jiyai Shin by one shot in the Kia Classic. She also played in her first Solheim Cup, going 0-2-1 as Europe defeated the U.S.
"Well, Kia proved that no matter who I'm playing, if I'm playing my best game or if I'm playing my good game, I can beat them," Gal said.
"I'm going to be nervous. I'm always nervous on the first tee and I don't think that's going to change. But I really just want to enjoy tomorrow. It's great to be in that position, have the chance to win. If you've done it before, I think it gives you more confidence in the back of your mind."
Park also joined the LPGA in 2008 after having won six times on the Korean LPGA. A year later, playing in the Honda LPGA Thailand, she was taken to a hospital following an opening-round 79. After being treated and released, she came back to post rounds of 64-69-69 to finish second, three shots behind Lorena Ochoa. Since then, Park has added one more runner-up and a third this year in the Safeway Classic, where she bogeyed the final hole to fall out of a tie for first.
After finishing Saturday's round with three birdies over her final four holes, Park was asked if she was ready to win.
"I do not know if this is the right sentence," she began in broken English. "But I'm very thirsty, right? Yeah, I'm ready."
A world event?
Bring it on.