Williamsburg, Va. Annika Sorenstam knows there was speculation that her best days as a golfer were behind her, and that an injury-plagued 2007 was the beginning of the end.
That all just makes working her way back to the top more satisfying.
"I never wondered, but I know other people would wonder, 'Is she ever going to get back?"' Sorenstam said Saturday after her 2-under 69 showed that she's getting there quickly. "I know what I'm capable of."
Rarely spectacular but remarkable for her consistency, Sorenstam shot her third consecutive nearly mistake-free round, and gave No. 1 Lorena Ochoa and Jeong Jang up-close evidence that she's getting ever closer to finding the maddeningly steady game that made her the top female player in the world for so long, and it's coming sooner rather than later.
"It's been over a year and I'm finally starting to feel good again," said Sorenstam, who opened with rounds of 64 and 68 and was 14 under overall.
Hitting fairways and greens consistently and scrambling when necessary with radar-like wedge play, Sorenstam stretched her bogey-free string to 53 holes before hooking a drive into the water on No. 18. Even then, she drove again, hit a 6-iron from 162 yards to 8 feet and made the putt, the bogey leaving her with a three-shot lead over Jang.
"I saved everything today," Sorenstam said. "Even the last hole."
And that ability to keep bad shots from costing her is key to her resurgence.
"I mean, there was a stretch there that I was really relying on my short game and it was good saves," she said, speaking of a string of three par saves in a row beginning with the eighth hole. "It was solid saves all around. That's what kind of kept my round going."
Ochoa lost her putting stroke and fell back quickly. Her string of four bogeys in five holes ended just before Sorenstam made back-to-back long putts, both for birdie, to open an eight-shot lead over the woman who has taken her place at the top of the sport.
Milan, Italy - South Africa's Hennie Otto shot a 9-under 63 to take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Italian Open.
Otto had a 22-under 194 total in the Castello di Tolcinasco course. Swedes Christian Nilsson (64) and Robert Karlsson (69) and Spain's Alvaro Velasco (64) were tied for second. John Daly (68) was 14 strokes back.