LANCASTER, Pa. — Stacy Lewis did not want to come up short again. She stood in the middle of the 18th fairway, staring down the final green of the day, knowing she needed to put the ball close to the hole to give herself a chance at one last birdie.
Her chances to close the gap between herself and Amy Yang had been frequent throughout her round Saturday, but she was never able to take advantage. Her approach shot was perfect — almost rolling into the cup. Another opportunity to card a birdie and make her overnight deficit just two strokes. Once again, she came up short.
Lewis finished with a one-under-par 69, the same as Yang, but trails her by three strokes going into the final round of the United States Women’s Open. Yang has a three-round total of eight-under 202.
In Gee Chun shot a two-under 68 and is third at 206. Shiho Oyama fired a 71 and is fourth, five strokes off the pace.
“I felt like I had a lot of good shots that put a lot of pressure on her,“ Lewis said. “And then she would respond and hit it right in there with me. There were multiple times today where it was iffy who was away. We kept making shots on top of each other, which is frustrating, in a way. You’re trying to get closer and you can’t get any closer.”
On Sunday afternoon, Lewis will try to capture a third major championship, having won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2011 and the Women’s British Open in 2013. Her previous best finish at the United States Women’s Open was second last year. To best that mark Sunday, she will have to figure out a way to topple Yang.
One day after shooting a four-under 66 to vault into the lead, Yang continued to grind out pars — throwing in birdies when needed — while keeping Lewis at bay.
“I don’t know,” Yang said about her methodical play. “I’m just not thinking so much about anything like that out there. I just try to hit one shot at a time, the best I can do.”
On a day when the Lancaster Country Club course firmed up and toughened up, Yang and Lewis were seemingly competing in a match-play event in the midst of a major championship. Players shot up and down the leaderboard all afternoon long, but none were able to get near the two players who will be in Sunday’s final group.
The defending champion Michelle Wie, despite battling hip and ankle injuries, got within two strokes of Lewis. But she faltered over the final holes, finishing with a 68, and sits six strokes behind Yang in a four-way tie for fifth. The two-time United States Women’s Open champion Inbee Park began the third round five shots behind Yang and appeared to be in perfect position for a strike at the lead. But Park scuttled around, failing to make putts and shot an even-par 70. She is among those tied for fifth.
“I knew I had to post a low number, which is a little frustrating,” Wie said. “Those easy bogeys that came around today were a little bit frustrating. I felt like the birdies came today. I just — those birdies are precious. You can’t really be making bogeys out here. I’m grateful that I have an opportunity. I have a chance.”
Chella Choi, who went out in the fourth group of the day, caught the field’s attention when she carded a tournament-best round of 64. Choi’s front-nine score of 29 was the lowest nine-hole score in the history of the event. Even with that display, though, Choi, too, is six strokes behind Yang.
Lewis said that she would probably need to get to eight-under to have a chance to win. She had the opportunities Saturday, but did not take advantage.
Last year, in the final round of this tournament, Lewis came from behind to finish second, thanks to a four-under 66. She, of course, had no expectations to win and let it loose. Lewis does not expect that to happen here.
“This golf course is playing even harder than Pinehurst was last year,” Lewis said. “It’s a little bit comparable to the Kraft in 2011, when I was playing with Yani Tseng and the two of us just kind of separated ourselves from the rest of the field and it kind of became a two-man show there at the end.”
Her putt on the 18th hole did not draw her one stroke closer to Yang, but she at least was able to keep her within her sights going into the final 18 holes.
“I think I’ve always played better coming from behind,” Lewis said. “I like where I am.”