RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Inbee Park’s 7-iron tee shot Saturday on the 168-yard 17th hole turned to left on a perfect line at the back-left pin, landed softly and rolled to 2½ feet for yet another birdie in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The 24-year-old South Korean player, three strokes ahead with a round left in the first major championship of the year, admitted it wasn’t quite the way she planned it after watching playing partner Lizette Salas’ ball sail too far left and into a bunker.
“It was actually a little bit of a mis-shot,” Park said. “I aimed a little more right, but I slightly pulled it and it ended up perfect.”
Bogey-free in her last 22 holes at Mission Hills, Park shot her second straight 5-under 67 in tricky wind conditions to reach 12 under.
“I feel really good about my swing and the stroke at the moment,” Park said. “I feel really comfortable around this golf course, too. That helps. Three good rounds, and I just need another one tomorrow. … I was really used to the wind after yesterday, because we had a really similar wind. It was a lot easier to judge today.”
She’s in position for her second major title and second victory of the year. She won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open and added her fourth LPGA Tour title in February in Thailand when Ariya Jutanugarn closed with a triple bogey to blow a two-stroke lead.
“This one would mean a lot,” Park said. “It’s just been a tournament I always wanted to win and, with the special ceremony jumping in the water, everybody just wants to do that.”
Salas, a stroke behind Park entering the round, had a 69 to remain second.
“I’ve just got to stay patient and just trust my putter and just keep it simple,” Salas said “I’m just going to stick to my game plan. I can’t control what she does. I can only control my swing thoughts and my routine.”
Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, the tournament winner in 2000 and 2006, was five strokes back at 6 under along with Suzann Pettersen, Angela Stanford, Jessica Korda, Karine Icher and Pornanong Phatlum. Stanford had a 66, the best round of the tournament. Webb and Pettersen shot 67, Korda and Icher 68, and Phatlum 70.
Park matched Salas with a birdie on the par-4 opening hole and got to 9 under with a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth. Park stretched her advantage to two strokes with another 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 10th, then nearly holed her 9-iron approach on the par-4 12th, leaving only 2½ feet for another birdie that pushed the lead to three.
Salas pulled within two with a birdie on the par-4 13th, and Park countered with the birdie on 17. Park saved par on 17 after hitting into the bunker, then missed a chance to get closer on the par-5 18th when her 6-foot birdie attempt slid by to the right.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as the first two days, but I kept putting myself in good position, hit some good shots out of the rough, and hit a great bunker shot on 17 to get up and down for par,” Salas said. “Obviously, you want to end with a birdie, and it didn’t quite drop. Overall, pretty good day considering I didn’t hit the ball well.”
The 23-year-old Salas grew up west of Los Angeles in Azusa, where her father is the head mechanic at a golf course. She was a four-time All-America selection at the University of Southern California.
“I feed off the crowd and, to have my fans out here, my family here, it just helps me stay calm,” Salas said. “I’m playing in my backyard, so I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Stanford rebounded with the 66 after opening with rounds of 70 and 74.
“I’ve kind of been fighting it all week and I kind of found a thought that worked the rest of the day,” Stanford said. “I made the turn and started hitting some good shots.”
Pettersen, who turned 32 on Sunday, birdied the final four holes. She had a share of the first-round lead after a 68, then dropped back with a 75 on Friday.
“I probably should have had six straight birdies coming in,” said Pettersen, a three-time runner-up in the event. “I’ve given myself a chance for tomorrow.”
The 38-year-old Webb won the last of her 38 tour titles in 2011.
“I’m just glad I gave myself a chance,” Webb said. “If we can get some breeze going tomorrow, I think that’ll make it interesting.”
Korda, the 20-year-old daughter of former tennis star Petr Korda, is spending time with her family for the first time since January.
“It’s really nice,” said Korda, the Women’s Australian Open winner last year. “My brother and sister got so big. It was really nice to see everybody. I miss my dad’s humor and my mom’s calmness, and she did my laundry last night, so it was kind of nice.”
Michelle Wie had a 73 to drop to 1 under. She has broken 70 only once in 17 rounds this season and is using an unorthodox putting stance with her torso bent parallel to the ground,
Top-ranked Stacy Lewis was 1 under after a 71.
“Coming into the week my swing didn’t feel great and I was kind of hoping I would figure things out by now, but I just haven’t,” said Lewis, the 2011 champion.
She has struggled after winning consecutive events this year in Singapore and Phoenix to take the top spot in the world from Yani Tseng.
DIVOTS: The second-ranked Tseng was even par after a 69. She won the 2010 tournament and finished second in 2011 and third last year. … Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old New Zealand amateur who won the Canadian Women’s Open last August to become the youngest LPGA Tour champion, shot a 71 to reach 1 over. … Natalie Gulbis was 2 over after a 72 in her return from malaria.