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Sorenstam Takes a Three-Stroke Lead Into Final Round

June 1, 1996

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) _ Annika Sorenstam proved she could win at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. Now she gets to prove she can handle winning.

Last time, Sorenstam came from out of nowhere, picking up five strokes in the final round to win for the first time in the United States.

This time, it will be a very different situation.

Sorenstam’s 69 on Saturday at Pine Needles put the 25-year-old Swede at 4-under-par 206 for 54 holes, three strokes ahead of Brandie Burton and four in front of Jane Geddes.

``Fortunately, this is not a golf course that someone can kill,″ Sorenstam said. ``Someone has to play well and I have to play badly tomorrow″ to lose, she said.

Last year, Sorenstam was able to sneak up on the field. Now she is the marked woman, put in a very Greg Norman-like situation. The tournament is hers to win _ or lose.

``I’m not chasing Annika,″ Geddes said after Sorenstam’s flawed round in which she made two bogeys and a double-bogey when she three-putted from 15 feet on No. 14, missing a 4-footer.

``She proved today she is not the iron woman,″ Geddes said. ``I think there is a lot of golf to go.″

There are enough big names around to put the kind of pressure on Sorenstam to make Sunday at the U.S. Open the kind of tension test it is meant to be.

Pat Bradley, who won the Open in 1981 when Sorenstam was 10 years old, was five strokes back along with Tammie Green after a strong 67, matching Sorenstam’s round Friday as the lowest of the tournament.

Laura Davies, whose length and solid short game makes her always a threat to put up a very low score, was six back with four others after shooting a 70.

Certainly after Norman’s Masters experience, being six back will never again be considered out of contention.

``Nothing is safe,″ Bradley said. ``I don’t see Annika backing down really. But with five or six people right behind her it might get her attention if someone makes a move.″

Sorenstam stuck with her strength, keeping the ball in play, as she hit 13 of the 14 driving fairways Saturday and has hit 39 of 42 in the tournament.

``That’s my game,″ Sorenstam said. ``Hitting fairways and hitting greens.″

She did show a little drop off on the greens, however, needing 32 putts on the fast, sharply contoured putting surfaces after using 29 and 28 in the first two rounds.

Sorenstam was at her best from long range. Four of her five birdies came on putts of 15 feet or longer. Twice she bogeyed when she hit greenside bunkers and couldn’t get up-and-down.

The double-bogey on No. 14 came when her 6-iron from 161 yards ran through the green into the rough. After a drop because a cameraman had kicked her ball, she chipped to 15 feet and three-putted, dropping into a tie with Burton at the time.

Burton, however, bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 and when Sorenstam rolled in a 30-footer for birdie on 17 the lead was back to three strokes.

``I felt the momentum was back and everything was under control,″ Sorenstam said.

Burton, who grew a little testy when asked about Sorenstam’s consistency, will play in the final group with her Sunday.

``I’m not worried about Annika,″ said Burton, who was paired with Sorenstam on Saturday and matched her 69. ``I’m worried about the golf course.″

Bradley put on a display of golf Saturday that indicated she just might be able to make a run at Sorenstam. Feeding off the energy of a wildly supportive gallery, the 45-year-old Bradley punctuated birdie putts with a pumped fist or a wave of the club over her head and reacted to near misses by sinking to her knees or staggering in a drunken circle of disbelief.

She started with birdies on the first two holes and was four under par for the day when she nearly holed her 4-iron approach on No. 14 for an eagle.

The crowd responded with a chant of ``Bradley, Bradley″ and shouts of ``Pat, Pat, Pat.″

``It hit me in the face like a great big wind,″ Bradley said about the response.

``There is so much golf left to play,″ said Bradley, who has won 28 of her 31 victories by coming from behind. ``I’m just happy I’m in a position to do something.″

Sorenstam is in a position to do something special. She would be the first woman to successfully defend her title since Betsy King in 1990. And she would join King, Hollis Stacy, Donna Caponi, Mickey Wright and Susie Berning as the only women with back-to-back U.S. Open titles.

``In a tournament like this and on a golf course like this you need lots of patience,″ Sorenstam said. ``That’s my strength.″

And that’s exactly what it will take to win the U.S. Open _ one more round like the three Sorenstam has already played.

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