The former champions swelled toward Sei Young Kim at the top of the leaderboard like waves that never made it to shore. Stacy Lewis, who won the tournament at Mission Hills in 2011, made her run with six birdies in her first 12 holes on Saturday. But she stumbled with two late bogeys.
Morgan Pressel, the 2007 champion, made her move in the middle of the round but had two late bogeys of her own. Karrie Webb (2006), Brittany Lincicome (2009), Inbee Park (2013) and Lexi Thompson (2014) also challenged and are within the top 14 in the ANA Inspiration heading into Sunday.
All had won this event, the year's first major, before — all except Kim, the 22-year-old South Korean who has one victory on the
"I think I'll be nervous going into tomorrow," Kim said through an interpreter.
Kim and Lewis will be the final pairing on Sunday. Lewis shot a four-under-par 68 on Saturday to bring her to seven-under par for the tournament, three back of Kim.
"Three shots on this golf course is not a lot," Lewis said.
Pressel and Lincicome are locked in a tie for third with Ariya Jutanugarn, who shot Saturday's low round to move from even to six-under par.
For a while, it seemed as though Lewis might run away with the lead. She missed more fairways than she hit, but she used just 28 putts on the round. On hole No. 12, after a long downhill putt fell in for birdie, she pumped her fist.
She was six-under par for the round and had just taken the lead. But, she said, she avoided looking at how the other players were doing.
"Nobody was running away," she said. "We were all going to stay close."
It was Kim who remained steady as the challengers fell off. With faster greens in the afternoon, Lewis' putting touch was off. She missed makable putts on the final three holes, including a bogey on No. 17.
Pressel, who was even with Kim for much of the round, bogeyed No. 16 and 17. Kim birdied both, and bogeyed just once all of Saturday. She was three-under par for the day.
It is an odd place to be for Kim, who said she grew up watching this tournament and has played in just 12 tournaments on the LPGA Tour. In South Korea, she said, she is known for coming from behind.
"I don't think I've ever won a tournament leading in the final round," she said.
She said she is slightly uneasy with the lead. She will come up with a plan to deal with her nerves on Saturday night.
If she were to hold on, she said, "It would be the biggest dream ever to come true for me."