Karrie Webb has positioned herself to launch at a sixth title after a blanket finish to the third round of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at The Grange.
Webb teetered on the edge of disaster when she skulled a chip long at the 18th hole, then summoning the competitive drive that has characterised her 20-year career at the top of the women's game, she rolled the putt in to save par, and post eight-under par overall.
In the ABC television commentary box beside the 18th green, world No. 1 Lydia Ko cheered the long putt home as the 41-year-old Webb fist-pumped. "That's why she's a legend,'' said Ko, who is also just a shot back from the lead going into the final round.
Webb suggested that it was a "huge momentum putt going into tomorrow''.
There are three leaders of the Open through 54 holes — Jenny Shin of South Korea, Japan's Haru Nomura and American Danielle Kang — at nine-under par. Webb (70 today) and Ko (68) are at eight-under, well and truly in contention. There are 18 players within four shots on a packed leaderboard.
Webb, who will be in the third-last group tomorrow with Paula Reto of South Africa, is the Australian with by far the best chance, and said her experience could be a factor.
"I’m not sure my name means the same on a leaderboard as perhaps it did a little while ago but I think most people respect the fact that I know how to win, and that if I’m up there with a few holes to go I probably might have a good crack at it,'' she said after the third round.
Nerves will play a part though, which she acknowledged. "If I wasn’t nervous about having a chance to win a golf tournament, let alone the Australian Open, then I probably shouldn’t be sitting in this chair, sono it’s like an excited nervous I guess. It’s been quite a while since I gave myself a chance to win on Sunday and a legitimate chance, so you know I’m looking forward to the opportunity.''
The field condensed today because the overnight leaders — Scotland's Catriona Matthew and England's Holly Clyburn — both gave back shots to par. Veteran Matthew struggled to a 73 but was consoled by the fact she had "not played myself out of it''. Clyburn imploded with a 78 and is out of contention.
This left a host of players to push through to the lead, first Jenny Shin, the American-based Korean seeking her first-ever LPGA Tour win and then Ko, the relentless Kiwi who birdied the first four holes and threatened to take over the tournament. Shin, 23, an LPGA regular who has lived in the US since her youth, bogeyed the last hole with a three-putt or she would have been the outright leader.
Ko had a 68 and was pleased to find a score in the 60s for the first time at The Grange. "I don't know who I'm going to be paired up with tomorrow … But it's going to be fun, I'll try to enjoy it, obviously in the final groups there might be a bit more tension, but I'm going to try and enjoy it,'' she said. "All the girls are lovely; it's not like there's going to be sparks going on!''
Nomura, the 23-year-old Japanese player, birdied the last to get herself into the final group tomorrow.
-9 Jenny Shin, Danielle Kang, Haru Nomura
-8 KARRIE WEBB, Lydia Ko
-7 Paula Reto, Ha Na Jang, Caroline Masson, Catriona Matthew
-6 Ryann O'Toole, Stacey Keating, Xi Yu Lin