Saturday was quite a day at the JTBC Founder’s Cup. Rookies Lydia Ko and Mirim Lee dueled it out for 18 holes. Playing in front of Ko and Lee, Jessica Korda played nip and tuck for 17 holes, then tied things up at the top of the board with a birdie on the 18th and briefly got a piece of the lead. Lee’s magical putter stalled in the final holes and she finished with a bogey on 15 and then a trio of pars. In the clutch, Ko birdied the par-3 17th and pulled ahead of Lee and Korda by a shot. I was left breathless and imagining what Sunday will bring in Phoenix!
Life at the Top: Lydia Ko
Lydia Ko goes into Sunday at -16, with rounds of 67, 66 & 67 that included 16 birdies, 2 eagles and 4 bogeys. The rookie with two pro victories and nine top-10 finishes will go into Sunday holding the outright lead by one stroke.
Ko has struggled on the front nine throughout the week but managed to make the turn at 3-under on Saturday. Despite a bogey on the 12th, Ko made three more birdies on the back side en route to shooting 67. She’s playing near-flawless golf, moving in a steady rhythm from one hole to the next and taking full advantage of the perfect conditions at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Wildfire course.
How does the not-quite 17-year old (Ko will celebrate her 17th birthday on April 24th) maintain her composure in the pressure cooker of tight rounds and Sunday Shootouts? Yoga and hypnotism? Or just plain old-fashioned practicality?
I’m just going to play my own game. If somebody goes crazy low like shooting 10‑under, 9‑under or whatever, it’s not something I can control. So I’m going to control what I can do.
Still in the Hunt
While Rolex Ranked No. 4 Ko holds the lead through 54 holes, Mirim Lee and Jessica Korda, Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic winner, are right behind her and there are a number of other LPGA Tour winners within striking distance entering the final round.
There were plenty of low numbers on Moving Day at the Founders Cup. The scoring average for the day was 69.421, nearly a stroke lower than Friday’s average (71.392). Sunday’s likely to bring more of the same and Ko’s suggestion of surprise low scores could easily become a reality.
Ten of the players in the top 12 players on the leaderboard have at least one LPGA victory on their resume. Many of them outplayed Lydia Ko on Saturday and any of them could do it again on Sunday and snatch the victory. Ko’s lead is tenuous at best.
With 16 pro victories and 141 top-10 finishes on her resume, Cristie Kerr, who finished right on the cut line at 2-under-par on Friday, is fully capable to turning the board upside down on Sunday.
Kerr took advantage of the early scoring conditions and tied the tournament course record with a 9-under 63 to jump from T67 into a tie for 12th at 11-under-par. She’s starting Sunday 5 shots behind Ko and ready to repeat her Saturday record-breaking performance. With an early afternoon tee time and Laura Davies, another low-drama player, as her partner, Kerr’s set up to bring in another low round.
Paula Creamer also used a low round on Saturday to get back into contention going into the final round. Rolex Ranked No. 8, with 10 career victories and 93 top-10 finishes, the recent HSBC Women’s Champions winner fired a 64 to move into a tie for 10th at 12-under-par. Creamer is just four shots off the lead heading into Sunday’s final round. Paired with So Yeon Ryu, Creamer will play just behind Kerr and Davies.
Defending champion Stacy Lewis, America’s top-ranked golfer, sits in a tie with Creamer at 12-under-par along with fellow American Morgan Pressel. Michelle Wie is among a group of five players at 13-under-par that includes Arizona State alum Azahara Munoz.
There will be plenty of sunshine in Phoenix today with light winds and low humidity. The perfect playing conditions that have fueled low scores for 54 holes will continue, setting the scene for a tightly-fought final round that begins at 8:30 local time when Catriona Matthew and Jeong Jang start swinging their sticks. Mirim Lee and Sun Young Yoo will take the first tee at 1:30pm local time and the final pair, Lydia Ko and Jessica Korda, tee off at 1:40pm. Marilyn Smith, Sally Spork, and Renee Powell will be waiting to receive their hugs and kisses at the end of the round.
Golf Channel will provide coverage beginning at 7pm ET for the final round of the JTBC Founders Cup. Don’t miss this one! It’s still anybody’s tournament to win, or lose!