Bianca Pagdanganan sizzles again with back to back 65’s; Brooke Henderson cards a 65, moves to 3rd place for a run on Sunday
For more coverage of the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, see our tournament page [HERE]
One day after recording a 65 (-5) on Friday, Bianca Pagdanganan of the Philippines was back at it again today. Starting out with an early morning tee time of 8:22 am, the Filipino star picked up right where she left off, making birdies on holes 2 and 4, before settling into a string of 4 pars before a birdie on the par 5, 9th hole. She finished her first nine holes in 32 shots, before turning home towards the clubhouse and the last 9-holes.
The back nine was where she scored prolifically the day before with four birdies, but today she could “only” muster two birdies. The good news was that she kept her scorecard clean and free of any dropped shots, finishing her third round with another 65 (-5), erasing all of the strokes that she gave away with Thursday’s opening round 77 (+7). Her performance netted her a – 3 score for the tournament, propelling her into sole possession of 5th place, up from 24th where she started the day. So, what was the difference between her first round and the last two rounds? “This is my first major ever, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, so I guess it was more of just me being able to embrace my nerves and playing with whatever I have. I just enjoyed my last two rounds, which I feel like I was a little bit more nervous than excited on my first round.”
On the tee box, her performance was, statistically, her worst of the week as she only hit 6 of 14 fairways off the tee; her first round under 50% in FIR – Fairways in Regulation. She made up for it though with her strong iron play, finding the greens in regulation 15 out of 18 times, her best performance of the tournament so far.
Her putting has also improved statistically, and when asked which contributed more to the improvement, her iron game or her putting, she responded “Well, this year honestly I'd say I've been working a lot on my putting, my tempo, and I'm seeing a huge improvement. Maybe not in the first round but my last two rounds they've been pretty good. I would say both an improvement on my putting and my iron game in the last two rounds, so it's a little bit of kind of everything.”
For Bianca, she has now completed two full rounds of competition without a bogey and when playing a tough course like Aronimink, set up under major tournament conditions, that is an accomplishment. “I honestly wasn't even thinking about that until I hit my last putt on the last hole, and I looked at my scorecard, and I was like, I don't think I've done this ever. This is probably my first time where I've played two back-to-back rounds bogey-free, but it is definitely an achievement, especially on this course. It's really tough. Before the tournament I told myself, pars are going to be great on this course and bogeys are going to be all right as long as you can bounce back. But thinking about a bogey-free round back-to-back is pretty cool.”
Like Friday, where Pagdanganan’s low round of 65 was equalled by two other players, Sei Young Kim and Jennifer Kupcho, today’s 65 was matched by Brooke Henderson, past KPMG Women’s PGA Champion (2016) and current No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Coming off Rounds of 71 (+1) and 69 (-1), Henderson needed to start scoring if she wanted to move herself up into contention. Her 65 today achieved that as she went from T14 to Second place with Anna Nordqvist, booking herself a spot in the last group as a result. Her round started off similar to Friday’s with a par on the first hole, sinking a par putt to get herself “up and down” to save her par. “… on No. 1. I missed the fairway in the rough, hit my second shot short of the green and then got up-and-down, up and over a couple ridges. It was a nice way to start.”
With some confidence gained from saving par on the first hole, Henderson then went on a birdie run, making birdies on holes 2, 4, 6, and 9 for a 9-hole score of 31 (-4). Her second nine was a picture of calm as she recorded another birdie on the par 4 12th, with pars on the remainder of the 9-holes, coming in with 34 and a total score of 65, her best round of the tournament. Her only moment of excitement on the second nine came on the last hole, needing to make a putt to save par, “that was a really clutch save, especially because the first two days I feel like I gave away the last hole with bogeys and then a par in the first round on an easy par-5. So it was nice to get the par save and really finish off a round that I feel like – not deserved to be -5 but it would have felt really terrible to fall back to -4. So definitely happy with no bogeys, and hopefully that continues tomorrow.”
Statistically, Henderson had a solid day on the course. Her driving was very solid as expected, as she hit 10 of 14 fairways off of the tee, but it was her iron game that really shone, as she recorded 17 greens in regulation, “Usually my long game is my strength, so I feel like anytime I'm up around hitting that many greens, I feel like I generally have a pretty good day. It definitely makes it a lot easier, especially around here you don't really want to miss too many greens. Yeah, it was a nice feeling to give myself a lot of birdie opportunities, a lot of good looks, and nice to capitalize on the five that I did.”
Henderson heads into the final round grouped with Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and leader, Sei Young Kim who holds a two-stroke lead over both Henderson and Nordqvist. She was in this position at the last major, the ANA Inspiration in September, where she and co-leader Nelly Korda battled back and forth matching each other until Mirim Lee finished with an eagle on 18 to tie them for the lead, before Lee went on to win in a playoff. “[A]nytime you're in the hunt at a major championship, it's an amazing feeling. It was disappointing a couple weeks ago at ANA so hopefully I can be close to the top of the leaderboard going into tomorrow. There's still a lot of golf to be played, but hopefully close to the top and give it a good run.”
Her strategy for playing in the last group on Sunday will not be too different from what it was these past few days, “I feel like it's everybody's goal starting Thursday to be in that final group on Sunday, so it's definitely an exciting feeling. Maybe a bit of an adrenaline rush, which is great. Yeah, just continue with our strategy, our plan, play smart and just kind of see what happens.”
Sunday’s final round has more than just a win at stake, for Henderson, it is winning her first event of this abbreviated 2020 season. She has won twice for every year that she has been on tour and it is a streak that Henderson hopes to keep going. But, it is also more than that, it would be her second major championship and that would elevate her above many of her fellow competitors who have either one major to their name or in the cases of others, still searching for that first one. It would also mean another series of future exemptions into other majors for Henderson plus the world ranking points as she wants to eventually reach number one.
For Pagdanganan, Sunday’s outcome would be just as meaningful, perhaps even more so given that she is at the start of her professional career. A win on Sunday would be an incredible achievement as this is her first major tournament, but even if she does not win, if she can maintain a top-10 finish on Sunday, then in all likelihood, she will have earned an exemption into the US Women’s Open. To do so, she will need to finish in the top 10 and be in the top 3 players who have not yet qualified. Looking at the leaderboard, it seems achievable. All she needs to do is finish in the top 10 as only Mina Harigae in 6th place and Kelly Tan of Malaysia who is T11 are the only other players that could reasonably qualify tomorrow.
Her preparations for Sunday's last round are intended to be simple and straightforward, "probably going to practice some putting and hit a few more balls. But I'm probably going to stick to the same game plan tomorrow, I'm not going to try to overthink anything, and I think I do better when I don't think at all, so I'm just going to play my game and just enjoy my last round. "
Sunday Tee Times (select):
8:38 am -- First Tee
8:49 am -- First Tee
Sei Young Kim