By the end of Saturday’s 3rd round the leaderboard at the CME Group Titleholders was smoking from all the up and down action. There were some seismic shifts in position today. German’s Sandra Gal, who fired off 6 back-to-back birdies to start the 1st round on Thursday, and held a slim lead through the 2nd round, cooled off today, carded 74, and dropped back to 4-way tie for 3rd place. That opened up some space at the top. Americans Natalie Gulbis and Gerina Piller and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum were quick to move up. But with an even dozen players starting the final round Sunday within 5 shots of their -11 lead, this is still an open tournament!
Rolex Ranked No. 106 Gulbis fired off eight birdies and gave back only one shot en route to a 7-under 65, her best round since the final round of the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship. But her climb up the board from 9th to a 3-way tie for 1st place got off to a watery start. She came back with a firm recovery, saved a bogey, and then fired off 3 back-to-back birdies.
. . .but golf is like that. Just when you think you’re playing well, something off the wall happens. And then the reverse . . . when you want to give up the game, you hit this spectacular shot and it keeps you coming back . . .
The 12-year LPGA Tour veteran said she has been reworking her swing with Coach Butch Harmon in her off weeks and has made a transition to a new set of TaylorMade irons. They certainly served her well today!
Gulbis will be playing Sunday for her first win since she earned her lone victory at the 2007 Evian Masters. Piller, ranked No. 53, and Phatlum, ranked No. 57, are both fighting for their first career wins. Phatlum won the unofficial HSBC Brasil Cup last season.
Piller, who was a one of Meg Mallon’s captain’s picks for this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup team, like Lexi Thompson, credited the Solheim experience with preparing her to play with confidence in high pressure situations. In her debut at the team competition, she said she learned how to play with nerves and make big shots down the stretch. She certainly did just that today, carding her 2nd 67 and taking 2 steps up the board to claim a share of the top spot.
With her 1st pro win in sight, Piller’s feeling excited. A win tomorrow would mean she and her husband could clear the mortgage on the house they just bought. But with Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson right behind the leaders, Piller know the tourney’s not over.
How’s she going to handle that pressure?
I’m just going to focus on my game and make as many birdies as I can and see what the outcome is when I’m done . . . the only thing you can do is worry about yourself, and if I can take care of myself, then the rest will take care of itself.
Like Piller, Phatlum had a strong round today, carding 67 and moving up from 3rd to a share of the top spot. With 6 top-10 finishes this year, most recently at the LPGA Reignwood Classic in October and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational earlier this month, Phatlum is playing an increasingly confident game and is poised to earn her first Tour victory.
Coming on Strong
Rolex Ranked No. 3 Stacy Lewis made the biggest move today, starting the round well down the board with a share of 33rd and going to the clubhouse with a piece of the 4th spot. Carding 63, a tournament record, Lewis just flat outplayed the entire field. America’s No. 1 golfer tied her career low, which she shot previously on three separate occasions with eight birdies, an eagle and one bogey.
The Woodlands, Texas native had some extra motivation for moving day and is trying to clinch the Vare Trophy for the LPGA’s low scoring average. She said her round on Friday was one of the best she’s had all year.
Like Inbee Park, who became preoccupied with the Rolex Player of the Year stats after she won the US Women’s Open, Lewis has been watching the Vare Trophy stats.
The weeks I didn’t play I was definitely watching what Suzann did. I tried to not look at scores, but I couldn’t help myself.
Stacy Lewis, One Eye on the Vare
In addition to Lewis, Rolex Ranked No. 1 Inbee Park, America’s teen sensation, Rolex Ranked No. 10 Lexi Thompson, China’s Shanshan Feng, ranked at 7, and 16-time LPGA winner and Rolex Ranked No. 13 Cristie Kerr are among the group of 12 within reach of the top of the leaderboard.
Park, now securely recognized as the 2012 Rolex Player of the Year, believes the strong leaderboard will make for an exciting final round and finish. Certainly that will be the case, and with the weather conditions changing the players will need to make adjustments again. There’s a chance of showers tonight, and that would soften the greens for tomorrow’s round. The winds are going to be a bit stronger for tomorrow’s play, requiring more adjustments, and the temperature will be a bit cooler. Well, it is golf, after all, and change and adjustment are the keys to success!
The Vare Trophy Race
This season’s 28 tournament schedule has all come down to the final-round in determining who will take home this year’s much sought after Vare Trophy. Stacy Lewis entered the season’s final event this week with a .011 lead over Suzann Pettersen in the tight-knit race.
In order for Pettersen to derail Lewis from becoming the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the Vare Trophy, she needs to better the Texan by nine strokes at the finish of the event. That looks to be a pretty tall task at this point. Heading into tomorrow’s final-round of the CME Group Titleholders, Lewis seems to be cruising to the Vare Trophy title as she sits at 9-under-par while Pettersen currently sits at 1-under. But the last putt hasn’t rolled yet.