There were plenty of opportunities Saturday for Pernilla Lindberg to do the kinds of things that have kept her from winning in her 192 starts on the LPGA Tour. She had other plans.
Lindberg withstood challenges by a United Nations of golfers moving up the leaderboard behind her and a string of birdies by her more celebrated playing partner to hold on to the top spot after the third round of the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage.
She shot a two-under-par 70, thanks to a week’s worth of long-range clutch putts, to finish at a tournament-record 54-hole total of 14-under par. She holds a three-shot lead over American Amy Olson, who shot 68 on an overcast day when pristine conditions let to red numbers all over the scorecard.
Lindberg, a 31-year-old from Sweden, has never led a tournament going into the fourth round. Her plan Saturday was to enjoy the moment, and that’s what she conveyed to her caddie and fiancé, Daniel Taylor.
“I said to him before the round, ‘How cool is this?’” she said. “Not many people get to do this, you play a major, you go out in the last group, I said, ‘Let’s just have fun. Let’s enjoy it.’”
Sung Hyun Park of Korea, the reigning U.S. Open champion, co-player of the year and tour rookie of the year, was in the final pairing with Lindberg and was the player logic figured would better withstand the pressure of a lead in the first major championship of the year. But Park fell apart after three straight birdies had given her a two-shot lead on the 11th hole. She and Lindberg were put on the clock for slow play on the 12th tee, and Park made three bogeys and a double bogey in the next five holes, finished with a two-over 74 and fell four shots off the pace.
“It was a rough day out there,” Park said through an interpreter.
Six golfers who made big pushes toward the top are tied for third at 10-under: Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand (66), seven-time major champion Inbee Park of Korea (67), American Jennifer Song (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (69) and Charley Hull (69) of England and Park. Ayako Uehara of Japan (70) is at nine-under, and world No. 1 Shanshan Feng of China (67) and American Jessica Korda (73) are one behind at eight-under.
Lindberg played with a resolve that never broke Saturday, and her putter saved her repeatedly. After making her first bogey of the tournament on the fifth hole, she faced a 25-foot downhill, curling putt for par on the sixth. She drained it.
“We talk a lot about momentum in golf, and that was really a momentum keeper,” she said. “I hadn’t made a bogey all week … then to maybe make back-to-back bogeys, obviously that would have felt like I swung the momentum the other way. … That part was really huge today.”
Lindberg made a 20-footer for birdie on her first hole, she saved par with a six-footer on No. 3, made a 35-footer for birdie on No. 8, made an 18-footer for birdie on No. 14, a 25-footer for par on No. 15 and a four-foot birdie on her closing hole.
“I love these greens,” she said.
Lindberg is trying to keep her mind off the magnitude of this event and what it would mean to her career as she tries for her first victory since joining the tour in 2010. She rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto peak with her parents on Friday, just relaxed and talked very little about golf.
“I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing for three days when I go out there tomorrow,” she said. “Obviously it’s going to be different. I’ll have I don’t know how many girls chasing me, and that’s going to be different. Someone’s going to go out there and shoot a low round, so I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.”
One of the things she has done is to set a target each day.
“I had a number in my head all day I was trying to achieve,” she said. “I kept the number a secret every day, but I achieved it.”