Lexi Thompson charges to the top of the leaderboard; Yuka Saso 1-shot behind
Saturdays have become known as “moving day” in professional golf and today was no exception at the U.S. Women’s Open as players jockeyed for position going into the last round of the day. The biggest mover was Lexi Thompson, who shot a 66 (-5 under) to seize the 3rd round lead at Olympic Club. Overnight leader, Yuka Saso carded an even par, 71 going into Sunday 1-stroke behind Thompson. Jeongeun Lee6 completed her 3rd round with a 73 (+2 over), falling to a share of 3rd place with amateur player Megha Ganne. Ganne shot a +1 over, 72 to keep herself in contention for the final round.
Entering the day at -2 under, Thompson played her best round of the tournament so far. Her 66 (-5 under) started off with three consecutive pars before she got on track with her first birdie of the round on the par-4, 4th hole playing at 388 yards.
Playing an iron off the tee, Thompson drove her ball 234 yards to the left of the fairway before it rolled down the sloped fairway, settling in the middle. With 153 yards to the hole, Thompson’s second shot landed long and left of the pin. However, with perfect speed on the ball, she converted the 29 foot putt for birdie, and as they say, she was off to the races. Thompson would finish her round bogey free, the first bogey free round recorded of the entire tournament.
“I struck it well all day, made a few good putts out there. And I guess probably just picking up the missed fairways or missed greens when I did, getting up-and-down or just getting it as far as I could out of that rough. So, it's all about patience out on this golf course because there's going to be bad shots made and you're going to miss some fairways, so you just have to get bogey at worst and get off the hole and go on to the next.”
Today’s round marked the lowest score that Thompson has ever posted at a U.S. Women’s Open, remarkable in that this year marks the 15th time that Thompson has played in the event. She first qualified in 2007 as a 12-year old amateur and today’s round was her 51st round in the US Women’s Open.
Thompson’s ball-striking has been very solid all week and after three rounds, she is 2nd in the field in average proximity to the hole at 27’4” (or 8.33 meters). Her driving has also been exceptional, leading the field in total driving, averaging 278.5 yards over the three rounds, while ranked 24th in Fairways Hit. For Thompson, she will need to continue her solid driving, finding the fairways to set herself up for her second shots as her iron game is the best in the field this week. Given her average proximity to the hole, she should have plenty of “looks at birdie” and unless her putter goes ice cold, she should be able to convert enough of them to pile the pressure on the other players.
Thompson can also count on her ample experience of competing for a major championship on Sundays, having been in this situation several times previously.
“It helps just to have that experience. But, for me, it's no different mindset going into tomorrow. Same mindset of just playing my game and focusing on one shot at a time and wherever that takes me, it does. I've been working extremely hard on my game and the mental side, but seeing just the progress in my game, I'm just going to take that and run with it and keep on improving and keep on working on my game to see that improvement.”
Coming into the third round as the overnight leader, Yuka Saso was hoping to get off to a good start and build a lead over the rest of the field. She appeared to be doing just that as she started with a birdie on the opening par-5, 1st hole. Her tee shot found the fairway, leaving her 261 yards to the hole. Her second shot, a layup, went 175 yards, landing left of the fairway in the first cut of the thick rough. She was fortunate that her third shot was only 91 yards to the hole as she managed to hack her ball out of the rough, landing it on the fairway before running up onto the green, stopping 6 feet from the hole. She converted the putt for birdie, taking her score to -7 under and a 2-shot lead over Jeongeun Lee6, who was in second place at the time.
Saso, gave that stroke back on the par-4, 4th hole with a bogey before she was able to record two more birdies on holes 7 and 10, both par-4s. Going into the homestretch of the back nine, Saso had gotten her score to -8 after the birdie on 10, but an unsteady finish to her round led to bogeys on the par-4, 14th and the par-4, 18th. The bogey on 18 dropped her back to -6, after she had birdied thepar-5, 17th temporarily tying Lexi Thompson for the lead at -7.
Saso’s ball-striking was very uneven again today, finding 10 – fairways off the tee, (up from Friday), but her Greens in Regulation fell to 10 of 18 (56%), down from Friday. It meant that Saso had to play from the rough and from bunkers, relying on her short game and scrambling to get her up and down to save pars.
Despite looking fairly comfortable with her short game, Saso shared that she wasn’t as confident with her scrambling and her wedge game as it may have appeared. “To be honest, I'm not, I don't think I'm very confident with my wedges, but I think I've been working on it, so I think I'm thankful that it's working.”
Playing in the last group on Sunday in a major championship will be a new experience for Saso. Should she succeed in winning, she would tie Hall of Fame player, Inbee Park as the youngest player to win the U.S. Women’s Open. They would be both 19 years, 11 months and 10 days old – perhaps it is destined to be. Of course, she would also be the first player from the Philippines to also win a major.
Thompson and Saso are joined in the final grouping by Megha Ganne, teeing off at 10:35 a.m. (Pacific time) from the first tee. Jeongeun Lee6 is in the penultimate grouping teeing off at 10:23 a.m. with Shanshan Feng and Nasa Hataoka. The USGA has gone with groups of three tomorrow with half of the field starting on the 9th tee, the purpose ostensibly to allow for play to finish before 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.