Tavatanakit has a 5-shot lead, chases record for largest margin of victory at the ANA
The third round at the Mission Hills course played much differently than the first two rounds as the desert winds made a significant appearance, changing the dynamics of the tournament on this day. In some circumstances players were commenting about having to make careful choices regarding their club selection given the wind conditions. In her post-round interview, Ally Ewing was asked about the effect of the wind, “ (Hole) 18 was playing straight into the wind so it was -- rather than my layup with like a wedge or 9-iron the last couple days, it was layup with a 5-iron. So, it did make the layup a little bit more challenging, but the wind definitely was picking up on the back nine. “
After starting her second round with a bogey, Patty Tavatanakit made sure that her start today would not be a repeat. From the first tee onward, Tavatanakit came out firing on all cylinders, as she carded three consecutive birdies to start her round, increasing her lead to -12 under. From that point on, Tavatanakit went into cruise control mode, recording five consecutive pars before she birdied the par 5 - 9th hole, to go out in 32.
“It's always nice to have a good start to feel a little bit more comfortable throughout the day. I was hitting it really good. I'm putting so well right now. Just really pleased with how everything played out. And obviously it was a little tough today, too, towards the end. It was hot. It was getting windy. Even though I shot good scores, the process was still a little bit challenging.”
Her only real spot of trouble on the front came on the 5th hole, a par 3 set up to play 152 yards. With the flag in a front location, her tee shot carried approximately 20 plus feet past the hole. With a quick downhill putt, Tavatanakit judged the pace correctly, but her ball drifted right of the hole, leaving her with a testing 6-footer to save par. She calmly stepped up and sunk the putt to save par.
On the par 5 -- 9th hole she went after the green on her second shot, landing it “pin high” but in the right greenside bunker, leaving her on the short side of the hole. She skillfully managed to get up and down from the bunker for a birdie, taking her score down to -13 as she made the turn to the 10th.
After making par on the 10th, Tavatanakit stepped up to the tee box on the 523-yard, 11th hole, unleashing a booming 363-yard tee shot on the par 5. With a 7-iron in her hands, Tavatanakit attacked the green with her second shot, but flared it way left of the green. Without flinching, Tavatanakit managed to get up and down from there for another birdie, bringing her score to -14 under.
On the 12th, Tavatanakit recorded her first bogey on the day and her first in 13 holes going back to her round on Friday. Even though she dropped a shot, she still maintained a 4-stroke lead over the second place Shanshan Feng. Demonstrating the poise and calmness of the first two rounds, Tavatanakit bounced back from the bogey to birdie the very next hole, the par 4, 13th playing at 393 yards, restoring her lead to 5-shots as she got back to a score of -14 under.
“I putted really good. I’ve been rolling really nicely since the first day. You know, some putts didn't drop. I didn't let that affect me. I just kept on, you know, giving it a good roll. My reads were better today. It was kind of in my system a little bit more — that's why I made more putts. But I just got to do the same thing tomorrow. Just keep making good strokes and hopefully go in.”
As she approached the par 5 – 18th hole, one wondered if she would keep playing aggressive and try to take advantage of her length and go for the green. With the absence of the grandstand and support wall at the rear of the green, it provided a fundamentally different risk/rewards situation from previous years. But, as Tavatanakit would state, with a five-shot lead and with her tee-shot coming to rest in a fairway divot, there really was not much contemplation required; she stepped up and played a lay-up shot leaving her an easy wedge to the green. “it was in the — it was in a divot. I wasn't going to risk it . . . My wedge game has been good all day, so why take the risk? I know I can make birdie some other way.”
The strategy nearly backfired, however. With the hole at the front of the green, mere yards from the pond guarding the green, Tavatanakit’s wedge shot into the wind landed pin high with plenty of spin; the ball hopped once and instead of releasing or checking up, it started backing up, reaching the edge of the green before it started rolling down the slope to the pond. Fortunately for her, the ball stopped just short of the water. She managed to get up and down from there to save par.
“If it was in the water, I was just going to take a drop and hit it again. But it stayed up, and I knew I can make an up and down from there for par or even chip in. There is always opportunities from the next shot.”
Tavatanakit’s ball striking was impressive, if not imperious today. While she only hit 10 of 14 fairways, her distance off of the tee, coupled with her strength, meant that she still hit plenty of “Greens in Regulation”, going 14 for 18 on GIRs. Her driving average for today was 348 yards.
Tavatanakit goes into Sunday as the solo leader with a 5-shot cushion over Ally Ewing and defending champion Mirim Lee. She has also been the solo leader for three consecutive rounds. Should she hold on and win tomorrow, she would become the first player to achieve that since Karrie Webb accomplished it in 2000. She would also become the first rookie to win the ANA Championship since Juli Inkster in 1984. That is some pretty heady company to be in. But Tavatanakit seems to be taking it in stride, refusing to get ahead of herself.
“I just take some good rest and recovery well. You know, try my best to sleep early and not think too much about golf and just be by myself, no social media. . . . I'm just so tired that I really want to sleep. I don't think I will have trouble sleeping tonight . . . I appreciate all the good comments and all the positive words that have reached out to me (on social media), but at the end of the day I still have some work to do. It's not my week off where I can just scroll. I still want to be focused on only, you know, words from people who matter.”
Hall of Fame player, Inbee Park (-7) and Charley Hull (-7) will be teeing off at 1:25 pm, followed by the penultimate pairing of Mirim Lee (-9) and Shanshan Feng (-8). Leader Tavatanakit (-14) tees off in the last pairing tomorrow at 1:45 p.m. (LA/Pacific time) with Ally Ewing (-9).
From left to right: Ally Ewing, Inbee Park, Mirim Lee and Patty Tavatanakit