The action up and down the leaderboard at the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open has been fast, furious and exhilarating. First there was Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, who’s stretching up to the top of the Rolex Rankings. Then there was Caroline Hedwall, the Swedish powerhouse who’s hunting her first win on the LPGA Tour, but who ran into 3rd round trouble and dropped back from 1st to 5th place. And now South Korean Chella Choi, also hunting her first LPGA Tour win, who’s father-caddy can’t go home until she has it, and 17-year old Australian amateur Mingee Lee, are going into the final round at the Australian Open thirteen shots under par and two-stroke c0-leaders over a tightly packed leaderboard.
Chella Choi’s hero is Se Ri Pak, who won the 1998 US Women’s Open and set an entire generation of South Korean girls on fire. Choi shot an amazing third round 2-eagle, 10-under par round of 62, both a career-low and a course record, and rocketed up to the top of the leaderboard from 38th place fourth round start. Choi’s Rolex Ranked No. 28 and has 16 career top-10 finishes but no wins. She’s played for the last year under Inbee Park‘s shadow, but her 3rd round at the Australian Open, marred only by a bogey on the par-4 13th hole, showed the fans what’s been in her bag all that time.
Choi’s not especially long off the tee. Her drives average slightly less than 250 yards. But she’s highly accurate, hitting better than 85% of the fairways. And as she observed in her post-round interview, her putting just keeps getting better and better.
Minjee Lee had a shorter distance to travel during the third round. With rounds of 68 and 67 already posted she started the 3rd round in solo third place. Her 68 was less dramatic than Choi’s score. At the same time, Lee’s 3rd round was stunning because of the consistency of her play.
With Karrie Webb as her mentor, Lee is clearly poised to convert the current teenaged trio who will take women’s golf into the future — Kiwi Lydia Ko, Englishwoman Charley Hull, and American Lexi Thompson — into a quartet.
The Top-10 Players
There’s a 4th round shootout in the making. Lydia Ko and Suzann Pettersen are both within striking distance of the top and they’re both utterly capable of firing off a string of birdies that will take them past Choi and Lee and secure the top of the board.
With rounds of 68, 72, and 69 Lydia Ko has steadily made her way up the leaderboard from a first round 8th place finish to 4th place in the second round and now, trailing the co-leaders by a single shot, a solo 3rd place going into the final round.
Suzann Pettersen, who held a slim lead going into the 3rd round, stumbled a bit and finished the round at even par, three shots off the lead, in solo 4th place. She has some work ahead of her in the final round of the Australian Open if she hopes to dethrone Inbee Park from the top of the rankings.
Aussie Karrie Webb and American Stacy Lewis are both playing now for a top-10 finish. Webb’s going into the final round at -8, trailing the co-leaders by five shots and Lewis, at -6, is a bit further down the board.
Beyond the Spotlight: Fan Picks
With rounds of 71, 73, and 70, Yani Tseng‘s going into the final round of the Australian Open at -2 for the tournament. The magic we saw last week at the RACV Australian Masters hasn’t reappeared for Tseng. She’s grinding her way through the Open.
Australian Masters winner Cheyenne Woods has played a bit unevenly at the Open. After carding 74 in the first round she seemed to find her rhythm and shot 65 in the second round. But then she seemed to run out of birdies in the third round, and carded 71. She’ll go into the final round alongside Stacy Lewis at -6 and facing a long reach just to finish inside the top-10.
Rookie Line Vedel is holding steady. She’s at -2 for the tournament going into the final round, alongside Yani Tseng. Vedel is playing a steady and respectable game. I’ll keep her on my watch list going forward this season.
Rolex Ranked No. 418, Frenchwoman Perrine Delacour shot a remarkable, bogey-free 65 in the third round at the Australian Open that catapulted her from the 61st to a share of the 13th slot on the board, where she’s keeping company with Karrie Webb going into the final round.
Chella Choi and Minjee Lee are going into the final round of the Australian Open with 13 players trailing trailing their lead by five strokes or less. This is still an open tournament, and there’s more than enough room for one more rotation at the top of the board and it could easily all boil down to a shootout with flat sticks!