Inspired by Nancy Lopez, one of the old masters - Jane Blalock - threw a roadblock into the rookie's path to history yesterday.
The 21-year-old Lopez shifted into low gear on her journey to become the first LPGA player ever to win five straight - she took a double-bogey on the last hole for 73.But Blalock sank putts from several counties for five-under par 68 and a three-stroke lead going into today's final round of the Rochester Classic.
Tied for second at 145 were Lopez (shooting par yesterday), Judy Rankin, Sandra Post, Pam Higgins and Merle Breer.
"The way Nancy Lopez has been playing, she has to be the favorite," said Blalock. "I can't even put myself in her category right now. For me, that's quite a statement."
Blalock shot the best round of the day with six birdies, including putts of 20, 30 and 40 feet. Friday's one-stroke leader, Sylvia Bertolaccini, was swallowed in a sea of bogeys. The front nine, in which she shot 35 Friday, won a contest with her putter. She had two bogeys and two double bogeys for 41.
Lopez was in good shape going into 18, where a birdie would have brought her into the clubhouse tied for the lead. But on the 377-yard, par 4 Lopez did something she rarely does - make a tactical mistake.
"I tried to hit the green with a sixiron and it wasn't enouth," said Lopez. "I should have used another club."
As it was, she had to chip to the green, and she then three-putted from 10 feet for her double bogey.
"I'm mad. I'm really hot." said Lopez, revealing that she smiles even when angry. "I'm a little tired, but that's not why I three-putted the last hole."
Lopez' round was, for her, erratic. She had five birdies, three bogeys and the disaster at 8. The weather turned extremely humid and Lopez had trouble gripping her clubs.
"I had trouble with my hands being slippery," she said. "I used the towel and changed gloves, but I felt like I was losing the club every time I hit the ball."
Blalock hit only one poor shot all day, a drive into the rough under a tree, resulting in a bogey on 16.
"Yesterday I missed five five-foot putts," said Blalock. "I've been disappointed in myself that I haven't been playing well lately, especially when someone else is playing as well as Nancy is. It's like when Joanne Carner is really on her game. I get really psyched up. That's the way I feel now about Lopez. "It's not because she's a rookie coming out here and playing so well. It's because she's just such an awesome player."
Today's final round could be a delightful shootout between the tour's most fearless aggressors - Blalock and Lopez. Both are chargers, with no comprehension of cautions.
"Perhaps we are a little alike," said Blalock. "She doesn't get scared of anything , and I don't either.
"I would have to say ther's more pressure on her, I'm just happy to be here."
Blalock said she expects a close fight, with the critical blows being tossed at holes 13 (a hilly nightmare with a creek running through it). 14 (much like 13) and 18.
Lopez bogeyed 14 both days. Blalock parred 13 and 14 both days, parred 18 Friday and birdied it yesterday.
"The back nine owes me some shots," Lopez said.
Blalock had become so distressed with her game that she change clubs.
She took a lesson last Tuesday, switched to Ram clubs and read far too many stories on Lopez.
"The clubs are lighter and I can control them better," said Blalock.
The estimated crowd of more than 10,000 was clearly for Lopez, Blalock said, "I just open my pockets and thank her for all the money she's bringing us."
Would she feel guilty about terminating the rookie's exciting winning streak?
"I really don't think it will hurt her if she wins or loses," said Blalock.