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Munoz making a run as a rookie Sits in second far behind Kerr

Winning as a rookie is always a challenge, especially in difficult tournaments such as a major. In recent LPGA Championships, however, the rookies have come out on top.

Going into today's final round, rookie Azahara Munoz is in the hunt for her first win at a major. She is tied for second place at 5-under-par 211, eight strokes behind leader Cristie Kerr.

"Cristie is eight shots ahead. I don't think it's going to be reachable but I will give it a try," Munoz said.

The last two LPGA Championship winners were rookies. In 2009, Anna Nordqvist of Sweden won by four strokes to take her first-ever tournament title at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md. In 2008, Yani Tseng won in a sudden death playoff against Maria Hjorth. Tseng's win marked the first time a rookie had won the LPGA Championship since Se Ri Pak in 1998.

On Saturday, Munoz shot a 2-under 70, recording four birdies on the day and two bogeys on the back nine.

"I played much better than [Friday]. I hit a lot of fairways except the last two. I didn't make as many putts as [Friday] but overall I played really well," Munoz said.

Munoz shot a 69 in the second round. She began on the back nine where she bogeyed and birdied four holes each, then hit three birdies in a row to start the front nine. She opened the weekend with an even-par 72.

Munoz has not won an LPGA tournament, and her best finish this year is a tie for fourth at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic. She won the Madrid Masters on the Ladies European Tour in 2009.

She has gotten off to a good start, but hasn't put specific expectations on herself in her first year on tour.

"I don't really set goals for myself. I'm playing really well and hopefully I keep it going and that's all I'm thinking about," she said.

Munoz, who is from Spain, feels she has adapted well to life on tour because of her time in college. She was the NCAA individual national champion in 2008 at Arizona State and played alongside Nordqvist. Munoz then helped lead the team to a national championship in 2009.

She sits second in the Rolex Rookie of the Year standings. It seems she isn't too concerned with her ranking, as she was unaware that the tournament was worth double points until she arrived in Pittsford.

"My goal is to be Rookie of the Year, but it's not something that obsesses me," she said.

Munoz sits behind Amanda Blumenherst, who has two top-10 finishes this year. While Munoz has looked more like a veteran at Locust Hill, Blumenherst has played like a rookie.

She came into Saturday morning at 2-over par. She fell apart in the third round, shooting a 5-over 77 to put her in a tie for 64th. She had six bogeys, including back-to-back on Nos. 1 and 2, and only one birdie.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., native had a successful amateur career. She attended Duke University, where she was a three-time National Collegiate Player of the Year and was named Duke's Senior Female Athlete of the Year.

e-mail: abremer@buffnews.com

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>LPGA Championship / How the third round was played

At the top: Eight shots up with 18 holes to play qualifies as insurmountable, does it not? Presumably all but Greg Norman would answer in the affirmative. Cristie Kerr is too seasoned to fritter this one away.

Round of the Day: The day belonged to the red, white and blue. Morgan Pressel leapt into a tie for 19th with a 4-under 68.

Ouch!: Michele Redman moved into the top 10 with a second-round 67 and thudded into a tie for 44th with a third-round 79, the highest round of the day. She double-bogeyed the first hole and went on to shoot 41 on the front side.

History Repeating: Is Locust Hill becoming the home of the blowout? Last year Jiyai Shin was 16-under and up four after 54 holes and won by seven.

Still Searching: Michelle Wie hit just five fairways and 12 greens -- both her tournament lows -- in shooting a 73. She's tied for 37th.

Toughest hole: The par-4 13th hole reigned again, playing to a 4.32 average. Just three birdies were made there versus 26 bogeys and a double.

Easiest hole: A par 3 topping the list? It doesn't happen often, but the 150-yard 15th yielded 20 birdies and 2.75 stroke average.

Quotable: Spain's Azahara Munoz on bidding to become the third straight LPGA rookie to win this event: "Yes, I heard that, but Cristie is eight shots ahead. I don't think it's going to be reachable but I will give it a try."

Quotable II: Jimin Kang of South Korea on Locust Hill: "It's a major, that's all I can say. If you miss a fairway you got to work your butt off to get out of there. If you miss a green, good luck to you as well."

On tap: The final round begins at 7:30 this morning, with the lead twosome of Cristie Kerr and Jimin Kong scheduled to go off at 12:40. Tee times were once again advanced as rain is expected around the 5 o'clock hour.

-- Bob DiCesare