In Arkansas, Choi moves confidently into final

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In Arkansas, Choi moves confidently into final

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Choi Na-yeon escapes from the bunker at the NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark., Saturday. [AP/NEWSIS]

ROGERS, Ark. - Choi Na-yeon felt as if she had nothing to lose staring down her second shot on the par-5 18th hole at Pinnacle Country Club.

The eight-time LPGA Tour winner certainly played without a sense of fear throughout her second round at the NW Arkansas Championship on Saturday, matching her career best with an 8-under 63 to surge to the top of the leaderboard.

Choi reached 13 under overall after sinking a 45-foot eagle putt on the 525-yard final hole, a shot she set up with a fearless 3-wood approach shot to the elevated green.

“I got the 3-wood out first, then changed it to a pitching wedge and then back to a 3-wood because there is a small gap to the right side of the green,” Choi said. “... I mean, I couldn’t hit a 3-wood if today is Sunday, but today’s Saturday, and I feel good about my swing so I just hit it.”

Choi had reason to feel comfortable at Pinnacle, where she has never shot above par in 23 career rounds and has finished in the top 10 in each of the last four years.

The Korean will enter Sunday’s final round with a two-shot lead over Hur Mi-jung and Anna Nordqvist and in search of her ninth career LPGA title - her first since opening the year with a victory at the Coates Golf Championship.

“This course seems like it suits me, so I feel confidence,” Choi said.

In addition to Hur and Nordqvist at 11 under, several players enter the final round within striking distance - none more notable than defending champion and local favorite Stacy Lewis at 9-under overall.

The former Arkansas standout was also four shots off the lead entering the final round last year when she sank a seven-foot birdie putt on the final hole to earn her 11th career victory.

Lewis has not won since, but she sank a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 17 on Saturday, and she followed that by capping her round with another birdie on the par-5 18th - to the delight of the partisan gallery following her every shot at Pinnacle Country Club.

She finished with a second-round 65, doing so after an early round double bogey.

“I just stayed patient and finally hit some good shots and rolled the rock in there at the end,” Lewis said. “Those two putts on 17 and 18 were huge going into tomorrow, but it also gave the fans something to cheer about, too.”

While Lewis will enjoy the biggest spotlight on Sunday, she will have to catch Choi.

The Korean’s second-round 8 under was one shot off the course record of 62, set in 2008 by both Angela Park and Jane Park. Also, Choi’s two-round total of 13-under par was one shot off the 36-hole record set by Veronica Felibert in 2012.

One Korean who won’t be around for the final round is top-ranked Park In-bee, who missed her first cut in more than a year. Park shot a 1-over 72 to finish 1 under overall, the same score as Michelle Wie, who also missed the cut. AP

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