Up for grabs?

Sunday, July 4, 2004

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. -- A bottle of nerves even when she's taking a nap, Jennifer Rosales belted a 3-iron and watched it climb the dangerous ridge on the 18th green until it safely stopped 18 feet from the hole. She slapped hands with her caddie and strolled up the fairway, a rare chance to exhale Saturday at the U.S. Women's Open.

Annika Sorenstam made a swift charge that would get anyone's attention.

Michelle Wie fired up her legion of fans with shots beyond her years, rocking Orchards Golf Club with the kind of noise that cannot be ignored.

Rosales was never flustered, surging ahead with a 2-under 69 that gave her a three-shot lead over Sorenstam, Meg Mallon and Kelly Robbins at the biggest tournament in women's golf.

"I was kind of nervous at the end a little bit," Rosales said. "It was more adrenalin. It was too strong, because I wanted to make birdies to have that cushion. But I'm pretty happy the way I ended up."

The real test is how she finishes it off.

Rosales was at 7-under 206 and has the outright 54-hole lead for the first time. Adding to the pressure are the players chasing her -- three-time major winner Mallon with her in the final group; former LPGA champion Robbins and Sorenstam right in front of her.

"Annika is an awesome player," Rosales said. "She's going to try to win this bad. But I told myself, 'Jen, just try and play hard and never look back.'"

Wie was down but still had an outside shot at becoming the youngest winner of a major.

The 14-year-old from Hawaii recovered from a poor front nine with an array of shots, the most impressive an 8-iron into 6 feet for birdie on the 439-yard 16th hole, the third-longest in Women's Open history.

But it all came undone on the 18th, when her drive bounced into the rough, her approach sailed into the gallery and she three-putted for double bogey and a 71 that left her at 1-under 212, in a tie for seventh with Pat Hurst and three others but still six shots behind Rosales.

Wie has been in contention twice at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but this major is different.

"Over here, you never know what's going to happen," Wie said.

One thing that never changes is Sorenstam in contention.

The best player in women's golf recovered from two bogeys on the first four holes with a couple of bursts -- back-to-back birdies to make the turn at even par, then a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th and a shot out of the rough to 12 feet for birdie on the next hole.

Sorenstam wound up with a 70 and will play in the next-to-last group.

"I didn't get off to the start I wanted, but I kept grinding," Sorenstam said. "One under is pretty good at the U.S. Open on Saturday."

Mallon, born in Massachusetts and beloved everywhere because of her infectious, freckle-faced smile, turned in the best round of the day with a 67 that put her at 209 and in the final group with Rosales.

Sorenstam will play with Robbins, who briefly shared the lead with four birdies on the front nine. Robbins lost in a three-way playoff last year at Pumpkin Ridge, where she had to play defensive golf on a dry course that kept her from hitting driver off the tee.

Rachel Teske (70) was at 210, while Michelle Ellis (72) was another stroke behind.

Wie was among 11 players still under par, while 17-year-old Paula Creamer bogeyed the last hole for a 72 that left her at even-par 213.

Dalhousie Golf Club touring professional Karen Stupples took herself out of contention by finishing 6 over on Saturday. She enters the final day at 7-over 220 for the tournament.

"It's a great mix of veterans, the No. 1 player in the world and players that want to be a professional some day," Mallon said. "It's going to be a fun day."

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