The atmosphere around Yani Tseng on Saturday was rowdy in a good way. The gallery was full of fans wearing "Friends of Yani" T-shirts and many of them were from nearby Beaumont, where Tseng once set up housekeeping when she was ready to qualify for the LPGA Tour.
Tseng, a 22-year-old from Taiwan, qualified no problem and now she's aiming to become the first woman since Annika Sorenstam in 2001-02 to defend a Kraft Nabisco Championship in this, the first major of the year.
With six birdies and not a hint of a bogey at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Tseng rushed to a six-under-par 66 in Saturday's third round. Her 54-hole total of 204 is 12-under and two shots better than Stacy Lewis, who had held a share of the lead after each of the first two rounds.
"I feel very excited," Tseng said. "It's always good to have six birdies and no bogeys out there on this tough golf course. I really had fun and I just want to keep smiling all day tomorrow."
For those chasing Tseng, ranked No. 1 in the world, the fun is less obvious. Besides Lewis, 2007 champion Morgan Pressel, 22, and 21-year-old Michelle Wie, who first played this event as a 13-year-old in 2003, might be the only others to have a chance.
Pressel is four shots behind and Wie trails by six. And Wie gave away a big stroke on the 17th hole when she missed a tap-in for par.
"It broke a lot for a two-footer," Wie said. "I missed the same putt last year."
Tseng seemed to miss nothing.
She began the third round three shots behind the 26-year-old Lewis but after birdies on the second, fourth and seventh holes, Tseng pulled into a tie for the lead. Tseng took the top spot for good with a birdie on No. 15.
Lewis said it can get exhausting being paired with this version of Tseng, who would frown on the rare occasion when her approach wasn't within 10 feet of the cup or when a birdie putt escaped on a corner or two.
"She's got a pretty good chance of making birdie on almost every hole," Lewis said. "It definitely puts pressure on me."
When Tseng won here last year, she started the final round a shot out of the lead. When she won the Women's British Open last year (her third career major), she started the final round in front and stayed there.
The lesson Tseng took from her role as frontrunner last year was simple.
"I probably repeated to myself a thousand times, 'I can do this.' So [Sunday] I need to do the same way. Now I'm leading so I just want to do it again."
Wie, for one, is conceding nothing. If Tseng's supporters were loud, Wie's gallery was much larger. And for the first time since 2006, Wie said she feels as if she can have an impact on the final day of a major.
"It's a lot of fun," she said. "I forgot how fun it is and I'm really excited to play tomorrow."