05 March 17 The Straits Times by JONATHAN WONG
On an unfamiliar golf course, Michelle Wie finds herself in an unaccustomed position.
The American, pain-free for the first time in years, wakes up this morning with the HSBC Women's Champions lead and a mere 18 holes away from lifting a trophy after her last triumph 987 days ago.
She shot a five-under 67 yesterday to reach 14-under 202 and is two strokes clear at the Sentosa Golf Club of world No. 1 Lydia Ko (67), Park Sung Hyun (68) and world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (69), all on 204.
The last time the 27-year-old Wie had control of an LPGA Tour event after 54 holes was in the 2014 US Women's Open, also the last of her four career wins.
She admitted to having "some butterflies out there" but added: "Doesn't matter how long it's been since I've been in contention... I'm really proud of myself for putting myself in this position.
3RD ROUND (SELECTED)
202 Michelle Wie (USA) 66 69 67
204 Lydia Ko (Nzl) 69 68 67, Park Sung Hyun (Kor) 68 68 68, Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha)67 68 69
205 Jang Ha Na (Kor) 70 67 68, Park In Bee (Kor) 67 67 71
207 Feng Shanshan (Chn) 70 68 69, Anna Nordqvist (Swe) 67 70 70, Suzann Pettersen (Nor) 69 67 71, Hur Mi Jung (Kor) 68 67 72
208 Brooke Henderson (Can) 67 70 71, Kim Sei Young (Kor) 70 67 71, Paula Creamer (USA) 68 70 70
209 Ryu So Yeon (Kor) 73 70 66
228 Amanda Tan (Sgp) 76 73 79
"As much as I watch the leaderboard or anyone else, there's so many things I can't control tomorrow. I'm just going out there with the same mindset that I had today and play as hard as I can."
A former child prodigy and top-10 ranked player, Wie is now world No. 179 - no thanks to niggling injuries, just one top-10 finish and 20 missed cuts from 51 events since 2015. She needed a sponsor's invite to even play here, but has since been sublime at the New Tanjong Course, hosting the US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million) tournament for the first time.
She is 10th in average drives (268.8 yards), tied-12th in putting (1.63 putts per GIR) and crucially, joint-first for greens in regulation (missing just six greens all week).
That is a pretty lethal combination, acknowledged New Zealand's world No. 1 Ko, who like Wie was feted as a child prodigy.
The 19-year-old has won 12 times since turning pro in 2013 but is in the midst of her longest winless run - albeit at just 11 tournaments stretching back to last July.
Her fist pump after draining a 20-foot birdie putt on the 376 yard, par-four 18th to cut into Wie's lead could prove to be a pivotal moment.
Said Ko, improving with each round with scores of 69, 68 and 67: "Every time I look at the screen, somebody is making another putt. It just shows how well the girls are playing and you know how many birdies are actually happening.
"There are birdies out there. It's going to be a putting game tomorrow. Whoever putts really consistently well is going to have the best opportunity to hold the trophy."
That should favour the 2015 winner Park In Bee, one of the game's best putters, but aside from a 35-footer bomb on the 10th, the South Korean laboured on the greens yesterday.
She needed 33 putts, more than Thursday or Friday's tally, managing just two birdies for a 71 and was joint-fifth alongside defending champion Jang Ha Na on 11-under 205.
Park said: "I holed two long ones, but I couldn't hole anything else. Anything inside five to 10 feet today, I think I missed six or seven of them today. A little bit disappointing, but it's good my ball-striking is still there."
4TH ROUND (SELECTED)
8.25am: Lexi Thompson (USA)
9.25am: Brooke Henderson
9.37am: Kim Sei Young, Paula Creamer
10.01am: Feng Shanshan, Anna Nordqvist, Suzann Pettersen
10.13am: Ariya Jutanugarn, Jang Ha Na, Park In Bee
10.25am: Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko, Park Sung Hyun
8.35am: Chun In Gee (Kor)
10.18am: Amanda Tan
Compatriot Jang also had cause for optimism after four birdies in her final six holes produced a 68 and belief that she could become the event's first two-time winner.
The world No. 6 said: "I think I'm in a really good position and I think better than being in the lead. There's no real pressure on me, I just have to play."
Singapore's Amanda Tan fell to last in the 63-women field after shooting 79 and was 12-over 228.
Wie was tied-57th at last year's edition and knows how hard leaderboards are to climb.
"That's what I wake up and practise long hours for," she said.
"To be in this position and try to do my best."
HSBC WOMEN'S CHAMPIONS
Day 4: StarHub Ch209, 10am. Singtel TV Ch115 & Mediacorp okto, 11.30am