As the leaders make the turn at the Evian Masters, they seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the field, almost despite themselves. If not for her 38 on the back yesterday, Candie Kung would be running away with the tournament. As it it, she shot her 2nd-straight 32 on the front to climb into a tie for the lead at -12 with Angela Park, who hasn't made a bogey in 46 holes thus far. Juli Inkster at -11 is the only other model of consistency among the leaders, never having shot above 35 in her 1st 5 9s. Cristie Kerr is tied with her, despite making a double and a triple in her first 23 holes. Still, like Helen Alfredsson, who has also made a triple bogey, she has never shot above 36 on any 9 in the tournament thus far. At -10, the veteran is 1 ahead of Lorena Ochoa, who shot a 37 on the back yesterday to drop off the lead pace but is playing bogey-free golf today.
Even as I write, Kung, Inkster, and Kerr made bogeys, so perhaps it's a bit premature to assert that these 6 players have formed a lead pack of their own, especially with Jin Joo Hong following up her string of 4 birdies in her 1st 6 holes with a run of pars and Na Yeon Choi making birdies on her 1st 3 holes on the back to join Hong at -8. But it's true that most of the players who had been a threat to keep pace with them have either stalled or fallen back. Meena Lee is +1 through 12 to fall back to -7--she's been caught by Eun-Hee Ji, who fired a fantastic 67. In-Kyung Kim is +3 through 11 to drop to -5--she's been passed by Suzann Pettersen's 69 and matched by Sun Young Yoo's 69 and Amy Yang's 70. Momoko Ueda is +2 through 14--she's been caught by Ji-Yai Shin's great 68 at -3. And unless Laura Diaz, Natalie Gulbis, and Sun-Ju Ahn can birdie the 18th, they'll join them with 73s today.
Moving day has been even crueler to Inbee Park and Ji-Young Oh--their 75s today dropped them back to E and a tie with their inspiration, Se Ri Pak, who caught them with a 70. Seon Hwa Lee and Hee Won Han's 76s dropped them to the back of the pack with the struggling Euro-stars and Americans. Angela Stanford is on pace for the worst round of the day--she's +7 through 15. By contrast, Ai Miyazato (74-72-70, E, T39), Pat Hurst (74-73-70, +1, T46), Karrie Webb (72-75-71, +2, T50), Jane Park (74-74-71, +3, T54), and Jeong Jang (74-73-72, +3, T54) got moving in the right direction.
Still, when even 69s by Mhairi McKay and Lindsey Wright barely got them back under par and at the edges of the top 30, those back in the pack aren't making any huge moves. And even those in the middle are finding it hard to catch the lead pack: Choi bogeyed the 13th to fall back to -7 with Hee Young Park, Paula Creamer, and Meena Lee, while Shi Hyun Ahn birdied it to join Ochoa at -9. The 5 players double digits under par with a handful of holes to play have a great chance to achieve some real separation heading into Sunday's final round.
[Update 1 (9:47 am): Nice comebacks by Laura Diaz, who eagled the 18th to get back to -5 for the tournament, and Natalie Gulbis, who birdied it to return to -4, but those may well be quixotic moral victories, as an actual victory seems out iof reach, barring tournament records from the Americans. Meanwhile, Ya Ni Tseng joined Pettersen at -6 with her 3rd straight birdie on the 18th.]
[Update 2 (10:05 am): Angela Park's bogeyless streak ended at 48 holes when a bogey on the 13th dropped her to -11, 1 shot behind Candie Kung, tied with Juli Inkster, and 1 shot ahead of Helen Alfredsson. Paula Creamer, meanwhile, birdied both closing par 5s, the 15th and 18th, to join Jin Joo Hong as leaders in the clubhouse at -8. Tied with them and still on the course are Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr, Na Yeon Choi, and Shi Hyun Ahn. The 4 players double digits under par are in grave danger of sinking back to this level and making tomorrow a Sunday free-for-all, unless they can stabilize their games heading into the final 4 holes.]
[Update 3 (10:10 am): A 34 on the back brought Annika Sorenstam back to -3 and could keep her faint hopes alive if the leaders stumble down the stretch today. A Young Kim eagle on the same hole had the exact same results.]
[Update 4 (10:26 am): Na Yeon Choi is making a move! She birdied 15 and 16 and with a birdie or better on 18 can finish double digits under par. Cristie kerr is moving in the opposite direction--a birdie on 16 gives her a god chance to break 40 on the back. But Choi is -9 and Kerr is -8, so both can put some pressure on leader Candie Kung (-12 with the 18th left to play) with good rounds tomorrow.]
[Update 5 (10:30 am): Rookie Hee Young Park birdied the 18th hole for the 3rd straight time this week to get to -7 and give herself a chance to pull a Louise Friberg tomorrow. Classmate Momoko Ueda's 74 dropped her to -3, still with the faintest of hopes, but only that. Lorena Ochoa birdied only 1 of 4 par 5s today--the 3rd time in a row she accomplished this dubious feat--and joins Creamer and Hong at -8. Shi Hyun Ahn is now leader in the clubhouse at -9--her 3rd straight 69 makes her the only player in the field to have broken 70 all 3 rounds, although Juli Inkster has a good chance to join her and Angela Park has a decent chance.]
[Update 6 (10:36 am): Just noticed that Carin Koch shot a nice 69 to get back to E for the tournament. Her countrywoman Catrin Nilsmark kept Angela Stanford's 78 from tying for the worst round of the day by being the only player not to break 80 today. Na Yeon Choi finished at -9, but her failure to birdie 18 for the 3rd day in a row has to hurt her chances of victory, as Candie Kung birdied her final 2 holes to get to -13 for the tournament.]
[Update 7 (10:45 am): Angela Park is showing some grit--she birdied 16 and 17 to give herself a great chance to regain the lead from Kung with a 3rd straight birdie on the 18th. Juli Inkster's back-9 36 was her worst 9 thus far, but it was good enough for her to break 70 for the 3rd straight time and lurk 2 shots behind Kung heading into the final round.]
[Update 8 (10:51 am): Kerr and Kim couldn't birdie 18, either, so they finish at -8 and -5, respectively. Kerr's 39 when she was in contention has to hurt worse than the double or triple....]
[Update 9 (10:58 am): Alfredsson hung in there but lost ground today, despite getting to -10, as Park birdied her last 3 holes to close at -14. Depending on how Park and Kung handle the pressure of being in the lead pack tomorrow, it could either be a shootout at the Evian corral tomorrow or a free-for-all among the 6 players within 5 shots of Park!]
[Update 10 (7:50 pm): Save yourself some time and read Hound Dog's recap instead of the AP story tonight.]