Jutanugarn holds slim lead at ‘tougher’ Travis Pointe
Ann Arbor – In the first round of the Volvik Championship on Thursday, Travis Pointe Country Club nearly yielded a score that matched the course record of 63.
In Saturday’s third round, however, the course just south of Michigan Stadium bit back as strong winds and fast greens frustrated golfers, especially those near the top of the leaderboard.
By the end, Ariya Jutanugarn was at 10-under to hold a one-shot lead over Christina Kim and Jessica Korda entering Sunday’s final round, though none of it came easily.
“Way tougher,” said Korda, who birdied 18 to shoot a 2-under 70 for the round. “(The pins) are tucked in a lot of places today and the greens are just super firm. We are kind of back to what it was on the first day, when it was tough to keep it by the pin.”
Kim, who shot 64 in the first round Thursday, seemed to sum up the feeling of most players on Saturday when her birdie putt at 18 fell in the cup. She raised her hands and looked to the sky in celebration as her par-72 round came to a close.
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“It was a bit of a struggle out there today,” said Kim, whose three birdies were wiped out by three bogeys. “Unlike yesterday, when I said I putted like doo-doo, I putted really well today. You know, my Happy Putter kept me happy all day. I just burned a lot of edges, and it was difficult to stay patient out there. I kind of lost it on 17 and 18 a little bit, in terms of all of my frustrations finally coming out. But, you know, I hung in there, played tough and then at least I didn't end up over par today.”
That left her in good position headed into Sunday’s final round as she and the rest of the field will once again be chasing Jutanugarn, though for much of the third round it didn’t look like the hottest golfer on the LPGA Tour would still be holding the lead.
Jutanugarn is seeking her third straight victory, something that hasn’t happened on the LPGA Tour since Inbee Park won three in a row in 2013. She entered the third round with a two-shot lead but it didn’t take long for things to go in the wrong direction.
After not making a bogey in the first two rounds, Jutanugarn bogeyed three holes on the front nine to shoot a 3-over 39 and added another bogey at 13 to drop two shots off the pace.
“First bogey I just feel like, ‘Really?’” Jutanugarn said. “I miss like 3 feet, I miss my putt, and actually it's just like, the putt was pretty hard because I missed my iron over the pin, so bogey. So it's going to happen anyway.
“To me it's very hard today, very windy, and the green is very, very firm today.”
Jutanugarn rallied, however, getting a birdie at No. 14 and then an eagle at 18.
She isn’t carrying a driver this week, but the big hitter was still on the green in two at 18 after hitting 3-wood, 3-iron to end up 15 feet from the hole. She drained the putt and found herself back on top.
“They move the tee box, so I have chance to go second shot iron, so I miss my first shot in the rough and second shot 220,” Jutanugarn said. “I hit my iron, and here I didn't hit that good, but come pretty close to the pin and I make the putt.”
The late surge from Jutanugarn was no surprise to those trying to beat her.
“Honestly I'm one of her biggest fans,” Kim said. “It's incredible what she can do with the golf ball. It's just absurd. She is able to dominate really any golf course without necessarily hitting driver on any hole. It would be so great to have her do a three-peat. Obviously I'm trying to win this tournament myself, as well, but there are so many incredible stories and great players at the top of the leaderboard that would make for some awesome stories. But I heard the roar, and I was super-pumped for her.”
While Jutanugarn is on a roll, Korda is seeking her first win since October and Kim hasn’t won since 2014.
Both aren’t putting any pressure on themselves heading into the final round.
“I'm just trying to put some good rounds together and the rest will kind of just take care of itself,” Korda said.
Added Kim, “You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. That's part of the beauty of life, you never know what's going to happen.”
Also in the hunt heading into Sunday are Hyo Joo Kim and Suzann Pettersen, who are each at 7-under while Belen Mozo, So Yeon Ryu and Marina Alex are all 6-under.