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Battle mode for Pierce and Allen as weather worsens in Rock Hill.

Paige Pierce will carry a six-stroke cushion into her pursuit of the year's only PDGA Major for the FPO field. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen.

Don’t look now, but there is a storm heading up the east coast as players charge into championship Saturday at Winthrop. With weather conditions deteriorating, and memories of a hurricane-shortened USDGC in 2016 fresh in their minds, players can be forgiven for checking the leaderboard earlier than usual with an eye towards locking-in their position.

“I was thinking about the score a lot today,” said tournament leader Paige Pierce. “It’s something that I didn’t do at all in round 1 or round 2, and I think you can see by my score compared to the first two rounds that it’s not beneficial to me.”

Pierce finished with a 4-under 66, her worst performance of the week score-wise, but which was actually rated 16 points higher than her 5-under 65 from Thursday—an indication of just how much more difficult the course was playing on day 3.

The three-time U.S. Women’s Champion did well to shake off a rocky finish to her second round, where she conceded four strokes and effectively re-opened the door for Catrina Allen on hole 18. That door remains open after three rounds, but by matching Allen’s score on Friday, Pierce maintains her 6-shot advantage heading into the final 18.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to just try my best to not think about the scores, and just play smart—just play my game,” she told DGN’s Jamie Thomas.  “And try to keep the box—I think that will be indicative of who will win.”  

Allen, for her part, did everything she could to close the gap. She put the pressure on early with an incredible 60-foot elevator putt on hole 2 that cleared the ‘mozzarella stick’ guardian pillars and dropped in for a birdie, and bounced back from an unlucky skip into the water on hole 6 by hitting the 45-footer to save par from the drop zone.

At the end of the day, however, the battle was a draw, and Allen finds herself with the same deficit heading into Saturday’s finale. She will need a lot to go her way if she is to win, but, as we’ve seen on this Winthrop course, where every hole presents the possibility of a large scoring swing, anything is possible.

Keeping their place on the lead card for the final round will be two of the best putters on tour: rookie Heather Young and veteran Ohn Scoggins.

Young has looked phenomenal throughout the championship, and has been improving with every round, including round 3, where she posted the day’s hot score at 5-under.

More impressive than her score has been the composure demonstrated by the 18-year-old as she battles alongside some of the game’s all-time greats. This was nowhere more apparent than on hole 17 where, after an unlucky skip off the basket in round 2 sent her over the hay bales and out of bounds, she threw her putter right into the heart of the chains from a similar distance, only to see the Discatcher push the disc right back out at her.

It was an awful break, but it didn’t seem to phase the youngster. She gave a wry smile, shook her head, and went on to birdie the difficult par-5 18th.

After the round, she reflected on how far she’s come during her rookie season.

“When we started playing three years ago, watching Paige and Catrina on video, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s impossible to do,” she said. “So, now, to be out here with them and playing, it’s pretty awesome.”

And with the growing confidence comes growing ambition.

“The first two rounds of the tournament, I just wanted to play the best I could because I’ve never been here before,” she said. “I didn’t know what’s good and what’s not. After today’s round, and having the hot round, I don’t know if I can catch Paige, but I’m certainly going to go out and try to get second place.”

Watch live as the lead card tees off for the final round of the Women’s National Championship, Saturday at 9:45am (Eastern).