BELLEAIR, Fla. — Emily Kristine Pedersen had three birdies over the final five holes for a 6-under 64 that gave her a three-shot lead on Saturday at The Annika, where the scoring was so low that Pederson had only the seventh-best round of the day.
Pedersen must have felt as though she was stuck in neutral at Pelican Golf Club. The Dane kept a clean card, made six birdies and still saw player after player close in on her.
Amy Yang had a 61. Two-time major champion Lilia Vu got back into the mix with a 62, a score matched by Patty Tavatanakit and Alison Lee. Two other players shot 63.
Pedersen got some breathing room late when her drive on the 16th skipped out of a bunker into the fairway, setting up a wedge to short range. And on the 18th, she tugged her pitching wedge only to see it catch a slope on the left side of the green. It rolled down to 6 feet for a final birdie.
Pedersen was at 18-under 192, three shots clear of Yang and Vu going into the final round.
She spoke with her mental coach, who advised Pedersen to try to lead by more shots at the end of the day than when she started.
“To kind of have something for me to chase, and to just focus on what I was doing and not looking at the others,” Pedersen said. “So that’s what I just tried to do. Tried to make more birdies on the weekend than I did the first two days, and that kind of kept me chasing even though I was in the lead.”
Pedersen will be going for her first LPGA Tour title, and she would appear to be in great shape to reach the LPGA finale next week down the Florida coast in Naples. She came to Pelican at No. 80 in the Race to CME Globe, and only the top 60 advance.
Vu has no such issues. She is No. 2 and will stay in that position, unable to catch Celine Boutier, who is not playing this week. But there is the matter of LPGA Tour player of the year, which is based on points, and Vu is only three points behind.
Vu said she never even considered player of the year until after she won the AIG Women’s Open for her second major of the year.
“Then started thinking about it, started playing worse,” Vu said. “So now I don’t think about it. I just try to play well.”
Tavatanakit was just outside the top 60 and was still on the bubble after a 72 in the second round. She came back strong with a 62 and now is in the thick of the tournament. Tavatanakit is among six players within five shots of Pederson going into Sunday.
Lexi Thompson might be playing her last LPGA round of the year. She shot 66, but on this day, that didn’t allow her to make up any ground. Thompson, who is No. 88 in the Race to CME Globe, fell eight shots behind.
Lydia Ko, who won the season finale and its $2 million prize last year, won’t be back to defend next week. She is at No. 101 and could only manage a 67, leaving her 11 shots back.