– The Associated Press

OAKMONT, Pa. – One more day like this, and Paula Creamer will no longer be the best LPGA golfer who hasn’t won a major.

Creamer kept her game together as a dozen others were losing theirs Saturday on a grueling day at the U.S. Women’s Open, taking a three-shot lead over Wendy Ward that she hopes will hold up in the final round.

That, and her left thumb.

Creamer, who has eight top-10 finishes in majors at age 23 but has yet to win one, is playing in only her fourth tournament since sitting out four months to surgically repair a hyperextended joint. The injury is so painful she limits her practice shots because she can’t stand the constant pounding of her golf club striking the ground.

Maybe that was the best way to prepare for the demanding Oakmont Country Club, whose stray shot-grabbing bunkers and tricky-to-read greens doomed the hopes of contender after contender on a day when play began at dawn and extended to sundown.

Namely, stay off it as much as possible.

Creamer, who played 29 holes Saturday, is 1 under for the tournament with five holes remaining in a third round that will be completed this morning. Ward has only No. 18 to play. Suzann Pettersen is four back with four holes to go, and 15-year-old Alexis Thompson, Amy Yang and Brittany Lang are five back. Only Thompson completed the third round.

Creamer, sixth in the last two U.S. Women’s Opens, played all but two holes of her 1-under 70 in the morning, the only below-par score among those completing the second round Saturday. She followed that by getting three birdies and two bogeys in the third round, with the second bogey coming on No. 13 just as the USGA sounded a horn halting play due to dwindling light.

“I played really consistent. I stuck to my game plan,” Creamer said. “If I hit a lot of greens, I know birdies will come. I know every par I won’t lose ground, so I keep going with that mindset. I was trying to stay as patient as I can.”

All this only a weekend after she missed the cut in the Jamie Farr Classic.

The only other 70 of the day was by Thompson, who is playing in her fourth Women’s Open — her fourth! — despite not yet being 16 but only her second tournament as a pro. She is at 4-over 217.

Like most teenagers, Thompson is glad she gets to sleep in today.

“I’m really thankful I don’t have to come back at 7:30 to play for likely just a hole,” said Thompson, whose father, Scott, is toting her bag.

Thompson found herself outplaying two former world No. 1-ranked golfers, LPGA Tour money leader Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin.

“I never thought of that; I’m just watching their games and how good they are,” she said. “How good they putt is amazing.”

Imagine the quandary the LPGA would find itself in if Thompson would somehow win; she’s not eligible to play full-time on the tour until she’s 18.

Of course, maybe Creamer has this going for her: Of the last 14 majors, 11 have been won by first-timers.

As Creamer was stringing together par after par, playing partner Cristie Kerr, the runaway 12-shot winner of the LPGA Championship only two weeks ago, was faltering.

Kerr went from one shot off the lead at the start of the third round to eight down in 12 holes, aided by back-to-back double bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5.

At the same time, Creamer birdied the fourth and parred the fifth, quickly separating herself from pre-tournament favorite Kerr by six shots.

PGA: Steve Stricker continued his sizzling play at the John Deere Classic, pulling away with a 9-under 62 for a six-shot lead heading into the final round at Silvis, Ill.

Stricker’s mastery of the TPC Deere Run course left him at 25-under 188 for the tournament, the best 54-hole score in PGA Tour history. With a 65 today, he would break the 72-hole record of 254.

So dominant was Stricker that Jeff Maggert shot a 63 and lost ground.

Stricker hit accurate approaches to give himself short putts for birdies in most cases and he deftly extricated himself the only two times he got in trouble.

EUROPEAN: Edoardo Molinari of Italy shot an 8-under 63 to take a one-stroke lead over Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland going into the final day of the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in Luss, Scotland.

Molinari was at 15-under 198 after a round that included an eagle and seven birdies. Clarke had a 67.

Molinari’s younger brother, Francesco, had a 67 and was tied for third with Peter Hedblom of Sweden (69) seven shots back. John Daly was in a three-way tie for ninth at 4 under after a 69.

“We may have the rivalry of brothers out on the golf course, but we are also very close as we showed when we won the World Cup last year,” Edoardo Molinari said. “Francesco will be trying hard to win and if he could get a couple of early birdies and have a chance of winning himself, that would be fantastic.”