Jang sets pace among brilliant Korean moves

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The Independent Online

The parents of the 15-year- old sensation Michelle Wie moved from Korea to Hawaii and she is on course to become the biggest thing in golf since Tiger Woods. Yesterday it might have been the royal Wie at Royal Birkdale in the third round of the Weetabix British Open but for the presence of one Jeong Jang.

In fact, the leaderboard would have had photo-finish written all over it but for Jang's pyrotechnics in the odd shower. In the first round, when almost everybody else wilted in the face of conditions that could have been transposed from December, Jang, all five feet of her, weathered the storm and came in with a four under par 68.

She improved on that in the second round with a 66 that advanced her to 10 under and sole occupancy at the top of the leaderboard. Yesterday, going off last with the amateur Louise Stahle (the Swede turns professional tomorrow), Jang dropped a shot at the first and the impression was that she would drift further south down the leaderboard.

Far from it. She went to the turn in 32 with birdies at the third, the fourth, the seventh and the ninth by which stage she was seven strokes clear of the field. Somebody had to close the gap and it was left to the world No 1, old money bags herself, Annika Sorenstam. At 34 the Swede, almost a matriarch given the number of whippersnappers in the tournament, remains young at heart. The winner of nine majors and $17m, Sorenstam finished at eight under par for the championship following a 66 yesterday - six birdies, no passes - and she believes she has a chance today of taking a second Weetabix.

She completed the round with two birdies but with the 17th and 18th par fives of moderate length that was almost par for the course. Laura Davies also shot 66 thanks to a sting in the tail that a scorpion would have been proud of. Davies, who won the championship here in 1986, came home birdie, eagle, eagle, picking up five shots in three holes.

Even so, at four under for the tournament, Davies would have to come up with the odd albatross and any other ornithological wonder to stand an earthly of catching Jang. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Korean, who lives in Orlando, Florida, is that she has never been in this position before.

A late starter, she only took up the game at 13. In six years on Tour as a professional she has never won so much as a fortune cookie although she was fourth in the Weetabix in 2002 - her best finish in a major championship - and she once finished second, her best ever result, in a tournament called the Kellogg Classic. A cereal performer, and a win here today would easily trump her achievement in the Kellogg.

Jang, who qualified for the US Tour at her first attempt, gave the distant pack a glimmer of hope when she made a rare error at the short 12th. She found a pot bunker and duly paid the penalty by dropping a shot to revert to 12 under par. But she was not in the doldrums (the remarkable scoring here was down in part to the absence of a decent breeze) for long.

She repaired the damage with her fifth birdie of the round at the 15th to close with a 69 and at 13 under par for the championship she takes a five-stroke cushion into today's final round.

Apart from Sorenstam, the only other player to get to eight under was the American Cristie Kerr, who also came in with 69. A stroke further back is another American, the in-form Paula Creamer, who got to seven under for the tournament following a 65, a score which was matched by England's Karen Stupples, the defending champion, and the promising young Welsh player, Becky Brewerton.

Brewerton said it was the round of her life. "I have had a few 66s and had one here in the Birkdale Cup when I was an amateur but this is the first time I've ever shot a 65," she said. "They were perfect conditions for scoring."

Wie concurred but her second successive 67 has left her with a mountain to climb.