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Tseng caught by Swede Sjodin in tie for Kraft lead

(Reuters) - Yani Tseng's grip on the Kraft Nabisco Championship was loosened by strong winds and superb play by Swede Karin Sjodin in Saturday's third round in Rancho Mirage, California.

The Taiwanese world number one, hunting her sixth major victory, ended a challenging day at Mission Hills Country Club by carding a one-under-par 71 to hold a share of the lead with the unheralded Sjodin, who fired a 68.

Tseng, who has triumphed three times in just five starts on the LPGA Tour this season, began the round a stroke in front and had to settle for a nine-under total of 207 after narrowly missing a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-five last.

The long-hitting Sjodin, seeking her first win on the U.S. circuit, surged to the top of the leaderboard by mixing five birdies with a lone bogey as winds gusted up to 25 mph in the California desert.

South Korea's Kang Haeji was alone in third place at seven under after returning a 72 in the penultimate round of the first women's major of the year.

"My emotions came through and it wasn't very good out there on the back nine," 2010 Kraft Nabisco champion Tseng, who offset three birdies with three bogeys after the turn, told reporters.

"I was thinking too much, trying too hard and didn't trust myself. But it's good that it happened today instead of tomorrow. I know I am learning some things and tomorrow I've just got to trust myself more."

DOMINANT FIGURE

Tseng, the LPGA Tour's dominant figure who has won six of her last 12 events and four of the last eight majors, said the wind had been her biggest problem.

"I was hitting a couple of shots in the rough and I wasn't sure if the ball was going to go low enough, that kind of thing," the ever smiling 23-year-old added.

"Every player is trying to win this tournament and I am excited. I can't wait to tee off tomorrow," said the Taiwanese, who had pink tape strapped around her right elbow to help her cope with tendinitis.

Sjodin played remarkably steady golf over the back nine as the winds intensified, posting birdies at the 11th and 16th around a bogey at the 12th to stay at the top of the leaderboard.

"I just hit the ball really solid and the wind didn't touch it much when I did, and that helps," the 28-year-old Swede said.

"I have worked a lot on my short game, my putting and my distance control. On these greens, you are not going to get close all the time so you have to make a lot of good two-putts."

Asked if she was up to the challenge of dueling with the world number one in the final round of a major, Sjodin replied with a smile: "Yeah, I think so."

World number two Choi Na-yeon was three strokes off the lead after carding a 71, ending the day level with fellow Koreans Seo Hee-kyung (69), Ji Eun-hee (70), Kim In-kyung (70) and Yoo Sun-young (72).

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine)

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