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Cristie Kerr leads by two strokes going into final round of U.S. Women's Open

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Cristie Kerr is feeling a sense of calm only a former U.S. Women's Open champion could understand.

Armed with the knowledge of what it takes to win the champion­ship, the 2007 winner is set to make a push for another title.

Kerr scrambled to shoot 1-over 72 Saturday, pulled away from struggling playing partner Paula Creamer and built a two-shot lead over Eun Hee Ji after three rounds of the Open.

Kerr was the only sub-par player — 2-under 211 — after three rounds on the narrow fairways and speedy, undulating greens of Saucon Valley Country Club.

Now Kerr, who won at Pine Needles in North Carolina in '07, is in position to claim her second title in three years. She's looking forward to the fourth-round challenge of keeping her lead.

"There really isn't a better place for me," the 12-time LPGA Tour winner said after two birdies and three bogeys. "I love this golf course. I feel good. I'm sure there's going to be some nerves in the morning. But I've been there. I know I can handle it."

Jean Reynolds moved up to become an unlikely challenger. The 24-year-old from Georgia, who has two wins this year on the developmental Futures Tour, started two strokes back and was one off the lead before stumbling with bogeys on Nos. 15, 17 and 18. She shot 74 and was was tied for third at 215 with Teresa Lu (70).

Seminole's Brittany Lincicome shot 2-over 73 and was tied with two others at 4-over 217.

A handful of players took advantage of the USGA's move to shorten the distance of a number of holes to raise the risk-reward factor.

Ji, 23, took advantage. She offset three bogeys with four birdies for 1-under 70 and par 213 total to earn a spot in the final group with Kerr on the last day in just her second Open.

"Every time I looked up at the leaderboard and see my name up there, it kind of gives me the excitement," Ji, of South Korea, said through an interpreter. "It makes me a little nervous but in a good way where you can maybe compete a little harder."

Others weren't so lucky at the Open, the LPGA Tour's third major of the season, namely Creamer.

She paired with second-round leader Kerr, but fell from contention quickly. She had three bogeys on the front nine, triple bogey at 10 and bogey at 11. She was at 219, tied for 17th, after shooting 79.

Creamer tried to get back into contention at No. 10, where the USGA used a front tee to make a drivable par-4. She took a chance, drove into a bunker, blasted over the green, then chipped short on the way to 7.

"It was unfortunate. I just didn't have anything really going," Creamer said.

Kerr has said all week that she knows what it takes at the Open, especially after winning her first two years ago.

"I still have to play strategically smart, which is what I've done the last four days," she said.

Tampa resident Kristy McPherson (77) and 14-year-old amateur Alexis Thompson (78) of Coral Springs were in a five-way tie for 26th at 222. Lorena Ochoa (73—221) was tied for 27th.

Cristie Kerr leads by two strokes going into final round of U.S. Women's Open 07/11/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 12, 2009 12:50am]

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