Locust Hill Country Club is poised to produce an overdue dramatic finish in today's final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Six players are within two shots of the lead and 14 are within four shots, a glaring contrast to the past two years, which saw blowout winners in suburban Rochester.
South Korea's Eun-Hee Ji took the lead after three rounds with a 3-under par 69 to move to 4-under for the tournament. Ji is hardly a household name and she hasn't placed higher than 10th in 59 straight events. But she can't be discounted. Ji won at Rochester in 2008, won the U.S. Open in 2009 and finally has mastered some major swing changes.
Right behind her is Australia's Karrie Webb, an LPGA Hall-of-Famer who has 38 tour wins and seven major titles to her name. Webb, 37, moved 18 spots up the leaderboard with the low round of the day (68) and stands 3-under par.
The top-ranked American player in the world and the hottest player on tour -- Texan Stacy Lewis -- is in a group tied for third at 2-under. Lewis has won two of her last three LPGA events and ranks third in the world. The fifth-ranked player in the world, Norway's Suzann Pettersen, also stands 2-under.
The most popular American on tour, Paula Creamer, had a great ball-striking round Saturday but had nothing to show for it. Still, Creamer is in a group of seven just three shots behind at 1-under.
"You can't really count anybody out right now," said Creamer, who ranks 11th in the world. "I'd say anybody (within) 5 or 6 shots. -- That's a fun thing. I think it's going to be a fun Sunday and lots of people are going to be in the mix."
"The harder the golf course the better," Lewis said. "Just the way this golf course is playing, it opens it up for a lot of people."
The final twosome, Ji and Webb, tees off at 2:40 p.m.
Early morning rains softened up the course Saturday, but the long, thick rough and tight fairways still suppressed scoring. Only four of 73 players shot in the 60s. The last two Wegmans winners finished 19 under. Yani Tseng won by 10 shots last year, and Christie Kerr won by 12 in 2010.
"The rough is much more penal this year but I don't think the fairways are much tighter," Webb said. "To hit the fairways here you have to be able to shape it against the breeze. I think that's the biggest challenge on this course."
Ji showed her ability to shape it both ways by hitting 11 of 14 fairways. Shortly after winning the U.S. Open three years ago, she underwent a major swing change. Why?
"I was always hitting fades," said Ji, referring to a left-to-right shot shape. "Right now I can hit draws and fades, and I'm hitting it longer."
Ji went to work on her swing with Australian Ian Triggs, long-time coach of the great Webb. She fell from 13th on the money list in 2009 to 56th in 2010 and 48th in 2011.
However, she had her best finish (10th) since her Open triumph last week, and her confidence is up.
"My confidence was lower last year," she said. "Right now I'm more comfortable with my swing."
Webb hasn't won a major since 2006. However, she has not faded away. She has finished between 12th and 23rd on the money list each of the past five seasons and won twice last year.
Lewis, 27, has a great all-around game and has a major title (Kraft Nabisco in 2011) among her three LPGA victories.
"I've been playing really well, just trusting my game," Lewis said. "It's a lot easier coming from behind. I like coming from the back and surprising people at the end."
The biggest underdog on the leader board is Italian Giulia Sergas, who will join Lewis in the second-to-last group. Sergas, 32, is in her 11th season on the LPGA tour. She never has won, and she has played 63 straight events over 3 1/2 years without a top-10 finish. She has been hitting it straight all week.
Playing with Pettersen in the third-to-last group is South Korean Inbee Park, a great putter whose lone LPGA win came in the 2008 U.S. Open.
Creamer hasn't won in 99 weeks, since her 2010 U.S. Open title. She boasts accuracy off the tee and from the fairway. She hit 16 of 18 greens Saturday.
"Goodness gracious, missing two greens, and at the time I was even par, that's kind of unheard of, especially with how small these greens are," Creamer said. "There was frustration."
Tied with Creamer three shots back at 1-under are young Americans Jennifer Johnson (20) and Sydnee Michaels (23), Koreans Sun Young Yoo and Jeong Jang, China's Shanshan Feng, and Japan's Mika Miyazato.
Yoo won the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco in March. Jang won the Wegmans event in 2006. The others in that group, besides Creamer, are seeking their first tour win. Kerr stands four back at even par.