(Reuters) - Michelle Wie was in a strong position to win her first major after hitting a four-under-par 68 to share the lead with fellow American Lexi Thompson at the end of the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Saturday.
Back at the Mission Hills course where she almost won her maiden major eight long years ago, the former child prodigy throttled back her powerful swing and notched four birdies on her way to a 10-under 206 total.
If Wie was occasionally a little timid with the putter, so too was teenager Thompson, who might have had the lead outright had she not three-putted the final hole for a 69.
“I just need to not get too nervous (and) just play like the kid I was,” Wie told Golf Channel.
Wie and Thompson were two strokes ahead of British teenager Charley Hull and South Korean veteran Pak Se Ri, who shared third place on the leaderboard at the first major of the LPGA season.
Now 24, Wie has been playing in professional tournaments for more than a decade, which makes her a seasoned veteran compared to 19-year-old Thompson.
“I’m one of the older people on the leaderboard,” Wie said. “Everything I’ve been through, I’m more appreciative of where I am right now.”
Wie left several putts short at the course in Rancho Mirage, California, including a birdie opportunity from 12-feet at the par-five 18th.
But Thompson also was flawed on the greens, as she showed by bogeying the par-five 18th after missing a five-foot putt.
“I’m really excited,” said Thompson, who knows she will have to putt better on Sunday to have a realistic chance of winning.
“If you’re not nervous you don’t care, but it’s a good nervous. This is what I’ve worked my whole life for, so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Thompson already has three LPGA victories which gives her one more than Wie, who gained fame and fortune in her early teenage years when she competed regularly in men’s tournaments.
She was widely expected to dominate women’s golf after turning professional in 2005 but her career stalled for a while amid injuries and a loss of confidence.
Wie, who tied for third at the Kraft Nabisco in 2006, will play with Thompson in the final round but it would be rash to discount the chances of Hull and Pak.
Hull vaulted into contention with a bogey-free 66, the best round of the day, while five-time major winner Pak stayed in the hunt despite three back-nine bogeys in her 71.
“I hit some bad drives towards the end but when I put myself in trouble I got out of it well,” said 18-year-old Hull, who is playing just her eighth LPGA event.
Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina