The leaderboard has been volatile and dynamic at the Pure Silk-Behamas LPGA Classic for three days. Playing in cool and sometimes windy conditions on a course that has both welcomed and challenged, the Tour picked a perfect time and a perfect venue to start the 2014 season. South Korean Meena Lee and Kiwi Lydia Ko set the first round pace at the Pure Silk-Bahamas, then dropped back in the second round, Ko to 8th and Lee to 38th place. After substantial action and some spectacular golf on Friday, Solheim Cup teammates Jessica Korda and Paula Creamer claimed the top slots on the board, Korda leading Creamer by a single shot. Saturday’s third round was punctuated by hot starts, eagles, more runs at the lead, and another change at the top of the board.
First it was Gerina Piller who started the third round at the Pure Silk-Bahamas in a tie for 49th place. She came off the first tee hot, fired off three birdies, an eagle, and then another birdie and made the turn at 6 shots under par. At that point Piller looked good to take the top of the board somewhere on the back nine.
It didn’t happen. Piller cooled off, then went stone cold, gave back 3 shots in the last 4 holes and went to the clubhouse at -5 for the tournament with a share of 25th place. She moved, but not enough.
Then there was Amelia Lewis, Rolex Ranked 222, starting her third year on Tour and still hunting her first win or top-10 finish. She teed off with a share of 20th, fired a birdie, then an eagle on the par-5 4th hole, settled into a steady rhythm, made the turn at -7, and ended her round with two more birdies and another eagle on the par-5 18. At -11 for the tournament, Lewis is starting her Sunday round 4 shots off the lead and with a share of 8th place, keeping company with America’s top-ranked golfer, Stacy Lewis, and Jenny Suh. Can Amelia Lewis maintain her momentum? Sunday will tell the tale.
Along came Lizette Salas, who’s been playing steady world-class golf at the Pure Silk-Bahamas. Salas started her 3rd round just inside the top-10, played another flawless round of golf, shot 66 and went to the clubhouse at -14 and sitting alone in 2nd place.
Starting her second year on Tour with 8 top-10 finishes, Rolex Ranked No. 20 Salas is also still looking for her first pro victory. She could pick it up tomorrow.
Na Yeon Choi‘s been moving right on up the leaderboard for 3 days. Rolex Ranked No. 7 and sure to be a member of the South Korean International Crown team, Choi ended her first Pure Silk-Bahamas round on Thursday sharing the 18th slot on the board. At the end of the second round Choi was -8 for the tournament and in 8th place.
Then today Choi made her move. She shot a flawless, bogey-free round, sprinkling seven birdies among her pars, carded 66, and claimed the top of the leaderboard with a 1 shot lead over her closest challenger, Lizette Salas. If she can hold on to the lead tomorrow, the Pure Silk-Bahamas would be Choi’s 8th LPGA victory.
And what of yesterday’s leader, Jessica Korda, and her friend and challenger, Paula Creamer? After a round of exhilarating highs and despairing disappointments, they both ended on a high note and are still very much in the mix.
Creamer, who’s ranked No. 13 by Rolex, started the third round in second place, one shot off Korda’s lead. She stumbled twice on the front 9 and made the turn at even par, then seemed to find her rhythm when she eagled the par-5 11th. Her recovery was brief and illusory. She doubled the par-5 15th and stomped her foot. But Creamer’s a quintessential, seasoned competitor and she put it back together one more time, eagled the par-5 18th and ended her day at -12 for the tournament and a share of 3rd place, three shots off Choi’s lead.
Amazingly, Korda played a similar round. She had two birdies and two bogeys on the front 9 and was at even par when she made the turn. Then she doubled the par-4 13th hole, recovered with a birdie on 14, and put her second shot on the par-5 18th hole inside Creamer’s, which was already close enough to the cup for an easy eagle putt. Korda walked off the 18th green at -12 for the tournament, sharing 3rd place on the board with Creamer. They’ll play together again tomorrow.
I’m beginning to evision Jenny Suh as the come-back kid. Suh tumbled back down to the Symetra Tour at the end of the 2013 season and established her eligibility to play in the Pure Silk-Bahamas only by her performance at the Monday qualifying round. Then she played her way up to a share of 3rd place during the second round. Where was that game last year? With her boyfriend on the bag, Suh will start the final round at -11 for the tournament and a share of 8th place. Can she keep herself inside the top-10 tomorrow?
Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko, top-ranked players and early favorites to dominate the Pure Silk-Bahamas, are both going into the final round inside the top-10 but with a bit of work ahead of them if they hope to gain a victory tomorrow. Lewis, in fifth place, is 4 shots off Choi’s lead and Ko, with a share of the 8th slot on the board, trails by 5 shots.
The final round begins tomorrow with Natalie Gulbis teeing off solo at 7:30am. Na Yeon Choi and Lizette Salas are paired in the final group and will tee off at 12:40pm. Golf Channel coverage of the final round begins at 3pm ET, and I’ll follow with a tournament wrap-up and a peek at the next LPGA event.