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Mexican Ochoa leads but Wie closes gap

Written by: Staff

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif., Apr 2 (Reuters) Mexico's Lorena Ochoa carded a two-over 74 in tough scoring conditions in the Kraft Nabisco Championship third round , taking a three-stroke lead over Michelle Wie into the final round.

Ochoa leads the women's first major of the year on nine under par 207, three shots ahead of second-placed Wie, who closed the gap by one after a 73 on a blustery day at the Mission Hills course yesterday.

Three players were in joint third place five shots back on four under 212 -- South Koreans Ahn Shi-hyun (71) and Lee Seon-hwa (74) and American Natalie Gulbis, who had a best-of-the-day 68.

Ochoa, a three-times winner on the ladies tour, had a few shaky moments, missing short putts for par at the fifth and for birdie at the 11th.

But she held her game together down the closing stretch.

''It was very tough and windy but I felt it was a good round,'' said Ochoa, who fired a record 62 in the first round.

''I enjoyed it, which was important.

''Tomorrow my goal is to be patient. I have a three-shot lead and I feel confident.'' Ochoa had a chance to win her first major at last year's U.S. Women's Open but took a quadruple-bogey eight at the last to finish four shots back.

At the same event, Wie went into the last round tied for the lead but slumped down the field after a horror closing 82.

BAD BREAKS ''I think I tried to force things at the US Open,'' said the 16-year-old from Hawaii. ''But I learned a lot. Tomorrow I'll go out and try and play my own game. But it will take a really good round to win.

''Today was solid but I had a lot of bad breaks and always seemed to be on the wrong side of the hole.

''In the last round I want to keep hitting fairways and greens and give myself some uphill putts so I can go for birdies.'' One vital putt Wie did make was for bogey at the par four 13th. Having hit a third shot into a bunker she managed to convert a 12-foot putt to escape with a five.

At the 148-yard 14th, she then stepped up and hit her tee shot to six feet for her only birdie of the day.

''That putt (at 13) was very important,'' she said. ''It helped me make birdie at the next hole.'' Gulbis highlighted her round with an eagle at the par five ninth, while Lee looked set to be even closer to the leader until she bogeyed the last two holes.


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