Brooke Henderson kept pouring in birdies as she tried to erase as much as she could from a six-shot deficit in the ANA Inspiration. Nelly Korda was trying to let off steam in the desert heat after dropping three shots in two holes.
Henderson eventually cooled down. Korda regained her touch.
Competitors since they were teenagers, they wound up tied for the lead Saturday, going into a final round at Mission Hills in in Rancho Mirage, California, that could be quite a show.
The 23-year-old Henderson, whose nine LPGA titles already are the most by a Canadian, tied the tournament record with a 30 on the front nine and settled for a 7-under 65. She is going for her second major.
Korda, the 22-year-old daughter of Grand Slam tennis champion Petr Korda, rallied with three birdies on the back nine for a 71 and joined Henderson at 12-under 204.
The No. 3 player in women’s golf, Korda has never had a better shot at her first major.
“It’s exciting,” Korda said. “It’s one of the reasons why you play golf is you play with the top players in the world, and playing for a major championship doesn’t get any better than that.”
They will be joined in the final group by Katherine Kirk, who quietly went about her business with a 67 that landed the Australian in the final group, two shots behind.
Also two shot behind were Mirim Lee (71) and Lexi Thompson (69), who was poised to make a run when she hit wedge to a foot for birdie on the ninth hole. That was her last birdie of the round. Even so, the 25-year-old Thompson was in good position to make another leap in Poppie’s Pond.
“Just struggled a bit with the putter on the back nine,” Thompson said. “Gave myself a bunch of good looks. Hitting it well. Just need to keep giving myself chances and I will have a chance tomorrow.”
Korda began with a two-shot lead and fell three shots back with a rough stretch on the front nine, particularly the sixth hole by hitting 5-wood through the fairway into the gnarly rough and not getting over the water, leading to double bogey.
She fell as many as three shots behind Henderson, who hit 3-wood to 12 feet for eagle on the par-5 second hole, and closed out the front nine with four birdies in a six-hole stretch.
“Sort of an easy start, which was nice, and relaxed a little bit,” Henderson said. “Being moving day, I wanted to get a solid round out there and try to climb the leaderboard as much as possible. Still a lot of golf to be played, but nice to see my name up there. And hopefully, tomorrow I can post a similar round.”
It was the hottest day of the tournament, the temperature climbing just past 100 degrees late in the day, helped by a mild haze from California fires that kept the sun from burning brighter. Korda was among those with an umbrella on the back nine to fend off the sun.
Korda began to claw her way back with a birdie on the par-5 11th, a gap wedge to 3 feet for birdie on the 12th and a pitching wedge just over the bunker that rolled out to 5 feet for birdie on the 15th, regaining a share of the lead.
Thompson, four behind to start the round, got back in the game quickly with three birdies in five holes, and another birdie on the par-5 ninth had her headed the right direction. But that was the last birdie she made. Her best putt was a 15-footer for par on No. 13.
Ten players were separated by four shots, a group that included Carlota Ciganda at 9-under 207 and former Mission Hills winner Stacy Lewis another shot back. Both shot 67,
Also at 8-under 208 was U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang, who shot a 68. The 17-year-old won the Amateur last month over Gabriela Ruffels, who was at 6-under 210 in a strong showing by amateurs this week.
Henderson closed out her front nine with a pitch to 2 feet for birdie and a 30, and was only disappointed she didn’t pick up more on the back nine. No matter. She was tied for the lead, more than she would have expected when she teed off. And while she viewed this round as moving day, Sunday might not be much different with so many players still in the mix.
That includes Kirk, a 38-year-old Aussie with three LPGA victories and one runner-up in her previous 59 appearances in major championships. She opened with two quick birdies and did enough to think about what it would be like to win the ANA Inspiration and take the plunge into Poppie’s Pond around the 18th green.
“It’s so stinking hot out here and it would be great to cool off,” Kirk said. “I have a lot of hard work, and there are a lot of great players on the leaderboard so I’m probably going to have to go low tomorrow and it’s going to take a really good number. But anything is possible in this game.”
Three atop Napa leaderboard
Brian Stuard closed with a scrambling birdie for a 6-under 66 and a share of the Safeway Open lead Saturday with James Hahn and Cameron Percy.
On a day when eight players held or shared the lead, the trio of Stuard, Hahn and Percy emerged in front despite all three running into trouble at various times at Silverado Resort in Napa, California.
Stuard, who began the day five shots off the lead, hit only 10 of 14 fairways off the tee and had six birdies, including three straight on the front nine. He made a 7-foot putt on the par-5 18th after finding the rough.
“If you drive it in the fairway, you’re going to give yourself a bunch of chances and I think that’s the No. 1 key for me,” Stuard said, adding that his putting has been the difference this week. “I didn’t putt well to finish the end of the year and this week I feel like I’m seeing the lines a little better, so it’s nice.”
Hahn hasn’t been as steady on the green and needed 28 putts in the third round, but made birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 for a 67.
“I just put myself out of position on the par 5s, something to work on,” Hahn said. “And it’s kind of a good thing that I’m not quite all there yet and hopefully I can put it all together tomorrow.”
Percy had a 68 to join the group at 16-under 200. He nearly took himself out of the hunt after bogeys on Nos. 11 and 14, but bounced back with birdies on two of the final three holes.
Second-round leader Sam Burns struggled to a 72 that left him tied with Kristoffer Ventura (66) and Harry Higgs (70) at 15 under.
Emiliano Grillo (65), Stewart Cink (65), Doug Ghim (69), D.J. Trahan (70) and Russell Knox (70) were 14 under.
Stricker, Jimenez share Champions lead
Steve Stricker and Miguel Angel Jimenez were tied for the lead going into the final round of the Sanford International, with Fred Couples, Darren Clarke and Kevin Sutherland a shot behind after a low-scoring day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The only player at at Minehaha Country Club set to play next week in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Stricker birdied the par-5 16th and par-4 18th on Saturday for a 6-under 64 to post at 9-under 131.
“I like my spot and I’m going to have to go out tomorrow and put up another good round,” Stricker said. “That’s my focus anyway, to get out there and make birdies and try not to make any mistakes.”
The U.S. Ryder Cup captain won the inaugural event in 2018, then skipped his title defense last year.
“I feel like I’m the defending champion,” Stricker said. “I haven’t been here since two years ago, but I enjoy the layout. You’ve got to put it in the proper spot. If you don’t hit it in the fairway, sometimes hitting it on these small undulating greens is tough, as you saw a couple short holes for me today that you end up scrambling.”
Jimenez, the Spanish star tied for the lead with David Toms and Dicky Pride after the rainy first round, birdied the par-4 15th as well as Nos. 16 and 18 in a 66.
“Tomorrow, I look to keep my rhythm, keep focused and let it happen and enjoy,” Jimenez said. “The guy who play better and shoot low will win. The main thing is enjoy and keep the rhythm and keep focused.”
Clarke birdied the last four in a 62, and Couples and Sutherland matched Couples with 64s.
“What a day!” Clarke said. “I played so badly yesterday. I played so poorly, hit the ball awful yesterday, went back and watched a bit of YouTube and watched a bit of Instagram and found a little tip from somebody and came out and hit some balls this morning and thought, `Well, that felt pretty good.’”
— Associated Press
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