BEDMINSTER, United States,- China's Feng Shanshan birdied the last hole after 17 consecutive pars to seize a one-stroke lead after Saturday's third round of the US Women's Open with US President Donald Trump in attendance.
The 27-year-old Rio Olympic bronze medalist missed her only fairway of the day at the par-5 18th, sending her tee shot into the deep left rough.
But she blasted out into the fairway, dropped her approach three feet from the cup then sank the putt to conclude a one-under 71 third round.
That left Feng on nine-under 207 after 54 holes at Trump National, with Trump among those watching her in the third major championship of the LPGA season.
"I was trying so hard to make putts," Feng said. "My putting was really working for the first two days. Today my speed was not as good. My Plan A wasn't working so it was Plan B which is hit the ball closer to the hole.
"At 18. I hit it really close and finally made a birdie. Made my day."
South Koreans held the next six spots on the leaderboard, with 17-year-old world amateur number two Choi Hye-Jin and Amy Yang sharing second on 208 after third-round 70s. Park Sung-Hyun was fourth on 210 with world number one Ryu So-Yeon, Lee Mi-Rim and Lee Jeong-Eun6 all on 211.
"I was just trying to focus on my own game, trying to focus on doing what I did the first two days," Feng said, saying she shunned watching scoreboards as rivals charged and faded.
"I did feel a lot of pressure. But I was happy to see a lot of Chinese fans come out. They were speaking Chinese to me and rooting for me. I was sorry I could only get one birdie for them."
Feng could become the first US Women's Open wire-to-wire winner since American Hollis Stacy in 1977.
"If Plan A doesn't work I'll go to Plan B," Feng said of her final round. "If Plan B isn't working I'll go to Plan C, which is just knock them in the hole.
"I've always got a plan. Lets see what plan is working tomorrow."
Trump watched in a special glass-enclosed viewing area near the 15th green for the second consecutive day, welcomed by most spectators despite outrage sparked by his controversial remarks about women during his presidential campaign.
- Yang seeks breakthrough -
Feng's only major victory came at the 2012 LPGA Championship, her first US triumph. She has followed with six more US LPGA titles, most recently winning in May at Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Feng, who began the day with a two-stroke edge, stretched her two-day par streak to 23 holes in a row before her heroics at 18, relentless and consistent hole after hole.
South Koreans have won six of the past nine US Women's Open crowns and have a shock contender in teen prodigy Choi, trying to become the first amateur to win the US Women's Open in half a century.
After an opening bogey, Choi birdied the par-5 eighth, par-4 11th and par-3 16th holes to briefly match Feng for the lead thanks to a 10-foot birdie putt at 16, which yielded only six birdies on the day.
"I think if I just stay focused and play maybe not necessarily safe but maybe more aggressively, I'm going to be OK tomorrow," Choi said.
The only amateur winner of the US Women's Open was France's Catherine Lacoste in 1967. The first European winner of the event, now 72, is the daughter of French tennis legend Rene Lacoste, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion.
Yang curled in a long birdie putt at 17 to book her spot in the final pairing Sunday.
"I stayed patient. I'm still hitting good. I'm still making a lot of putts. So it was a good day," Yang said. "Gave myself a lot of opportunities and saved really good pars out there. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Yang, whose most recent of three US LPGA titles came at Thailand in February, has 16 top-10 major finishes without a victory. Her nearest misses were runner-up efforts at the 2012 and 2015 US Women's Opens.