The top of the board was very crowded and volatile during the 3rd round at the LPGA Safeway Classic and the low scores continued to accumulate. Pornanong Phatlum (Thailand) started the round with a tenuous 1 shot lead over Suzann Pettersen (Norway). It didn’t hold. Pettersen pulled even mid-way through the back 9. Then Yani Tseng (Chinese Taipei), who had started the day at -10, a bit down on the board, began to collect birdies. She made it a 3-way tie for the lead with a birdie on 15, then kept up the pace and pulled ahead on 17 for a solo lead. Then Pettersen and Phatlum both bogied the 18th and Tseng suddenly, at the end of the day, had a 3 shot lead!
After languishing in the middle ranks of the LPGA Tour for more than a year, Tseng has come alive again. The 15th ranked player in the world, Tseng finished 2nd in the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and 3rd in the Honda LPGA Thailand in February 2013, but she missed the cut in 4 consecutive 2013 events, the US Women’s Open, the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, the Marathon Classic, and the RICOH Women’s British Open. That’s a very long dry spell.
Tseng’s not had a victory since March 2012, when she won the RR Donnelley LPGA Founder’s Cup. This could be her turn-around tourney. Tseng’s played brilliantly throughout the Safeway Classic. Her drives have gotten stronger and more accurate and her putts fewer in each consecutive round, as her self-confidence returns and she gets a firm grip on the mental game that’s an essential ingredient of a winning game.
In Hot Pursuit
Tseng’s lead may not hold. There’s quite a mob chasing her. In addition to Platlum and Pettersen, who are 3 shots back, there’s also a long line of top notch golfers within 5 shots of the top. Anna Nordqvist (Sweden), Morgan Pressel (USA), Stacy Lewis (USA), and Lizette Salas (USA) are all at -14, and right behind them Christie Kerr (USA), Sandra Changkija (USA), Karrie Webb (Australia) and Caroline Masson (Germany) are sitting on -13.
Course conditions continue to be superb, and scoring opportunities abound. Collectively, the players within 5 shots of Tseng’s lead carded 53 birdies in today’s round! Look at it another way. Among the 10 challengers, 30% of their holes were birdies! Given the way the scores are running, this is still anybody’s tournament to win.
Kwak: The Newcomer
Min Soe Kwak (South Korea), who got into the Safeway Classic on Thursday morning when Paula Creamer (USA) unexpectedly withdrew, has done a good job taking advantage of her opportunity. Kwak, who plays on Symetra Tour, hasn’t made a cut on the LPGA Tour until this weekend and has yet to cash an LPGA Tour check. That could change tomorrow. Kwak carded 68 in the 1st round, 67 in the 2nd round, and 71 today. She’s at -8 for the tournament and has a share of 21st place. Pornanong Phatlum bought a Louie Vuitton bag with her first LPGA check and Judy Rankin confessed that she used her 1st check to buy a refrigerator. I wonder what Kwak dreams about.
Sunday in the Pacific Northwest will bring another perfect day for a round of golf. The sun will shine, the temperatures will peak in the low 80s, and the wind will be light all day. The balls will fly, roll, and drop one more time.
The Golf Channel will provide coverage of the final round at the Safeway Classic from 7-9:30pm, ET, and I’ll be back tomorrow evening with a final wrap-up as well.