HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- Hardly anyone recognized the name Na
On Min on the leaderboard, and even more surprising was the number
of birdies she strung together Saturday at the LPGA Championship.
When the 18-year-old from South Korea finished a 7-under 65, she
was poised to make a name for herself in the record books.
Playing in only her sixth professional tournament and her first
major championship, Min ran off four birdies on the last seven holes
for the best round this week at Bulle Rock, giving her a one-shot
lead over Suzann Pettersen and a chance to become the youngest
major champion in LPGA Tour history.
Only 10 weeks ago, Morgan Pressel became the tour's youngest
major champion by winning the Kraft Nabisco. Pressel was a
decorated amateur, however, and nearly won the U.S. Women's Open
two years earlier.
Min didn't even learn to play golf until she was 12. Like other
South Korean juniors, she was inspired by the success of Se Ri Pak,
whose Hall of Fame career began at this tournament 10 years ago.
"I'm just really excited," said Min, who was at 10-under 206.
"This is my first major. I'll do my best to keep focus on each
She will play in the final group with Pettersen, who recovered
from two trips into the high grass that cost her three strokes and
her torturously slow play -- it took more than 4½ hours as a twosome
-- to shoot 71.
Karrie Webb stayed in the mix with a 10-foot par save on the
17th hole and shot 71. She was two shots behind at 208, along with
Angela Park (68), another 18-year-old rookie.
Pressel, bidding for the second leg of the Grand Slam, shot 70
and was only three shots behind.
Asked if she knew who Min was, Pressel was honest as ever.
"I did not," she said.
But the score sure got her attention. Wind that brushed off
overnight rain stuck around Bulle Rock and made it play as tough as
it has all week. Min wasn't the least bit bothered, overcoming a
bogey on the par-5 second hole by keeping the ball in play, and
close to the hole.
Michelle Wie finished before the leaders even arrived at Bulle
Rock, and left unanswered whether she would return. She shot 83,
her highest score against men or women since she was in the ninth
grade, and was in last place among 84 players. Her left wrist,
which she broke during a fall in late January, clearly bothered her
and Wie wrapped it in ice after signing her card.
"I really want to play," she said. "I just have to see how it
Among those still with a chance is Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1
player in the women's golf. She birdied her last hole for a 69,
hopeful it would give her a chance. Moments later, Min finished off
her 65 and was five shots clear of Ochoa.
"Five shots is not too far behind. It's been done before,"
Like several players, Ochoa was not too familiar with Min, and
for good reason.
She went to South Africa at age 12 to spend two years learning
to play golf and speak English, played on the South Korean amateur
team and then went to LPGA Q-school as an amateur. She missed her
card by two shots and was given non-exempt status.
Min tried Monday qualifying without much luck, and finally made
her pro debut in Mexico, where she tied for fifth. Min did well
enough at the Sybase Classic and Corning Classic to earn a spot in
the McDonald's LPGA Championship.
And she's making the most of it.
She birdied two of the toughest par 3s, Nos. 3 and 12, with
putts inside 10 feet and hit 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-4 13th, a
hole where Pettersen took one of her double bogeys.
Pettersen, deliberating over every shot and every putt, looked
as though she might build a big lead, taking advantage of the wind
and her power to birdie two of the first four holes and stretch her
margin to three shots. She reached in two at the par-5 second with
a 3-wood that hopped out of the rough and up 6 feet onto the green,
and a wedge on the fourth spun sideways to 6 feet.
The par 5s were friend and foe, however.
Pettersen went for the eighth green in two, even though the
stiff breeze was into her, and it sailed right into grass up to her
knees, the lie so buried that she had to stand over the ball and
stoop over just to see it. She did well to hack it out across the
fairway to the collar or a bunker, chipped nicely to 4 feet but
missed the putt and turned birdie into bogey.
As Kim and Min surged ahead of her, Pettersen answered with more
power. With the wind at her back and 255 yards to the hole, she hit
3-wood on the 11th and watched it bound onto the green and stop 6
feet behind the cup for eagle, giving her a one-shot lead.
But she pulled a tee shot into high weeds on the 13th and had to
take an unplayable lie, leading to double bogey. Pettersen made a
birdie on the 17th to at least get her in the final group with a
player nobody knows -- for now.