Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko, both with a string of top-10 finishes and both in search of their first win of 2014, have traded punches while being paired together for three rounds at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. Rolex Ranked No. 3 Lewis one-upped herself today, firing a bogey-free 68 on Saturday after 69s on Thursday and Friday. That 68 propelled her to a one shot lead over Rolex Ranked No. 4 Ko heading into what should be an exciting final round at Lake Merced Golf Club today.
Saturday’s Back 9 Shootout
Lewis and Ko fed off of each other throughout their Saturday round, trading birdies and fist bumps and smiles and eventually compliments in the media center. Lewis started the round at -6, Ko at -5 and the front nine was Ko’s. Lewis, following her caddie’s advise, stayed patient, collected nine pars, and waited for the opportunities. Ko birdied the 5th hole to pull even with Lewis and then, to her father’s delight, as he watched and cheered from behind the ropes, birdied the 7th to take the lead.
At the turn Ko was -7 and Lewis still at -6, where she’d started. Ko gave back a shot on 11 and they were even. It was match play for the next seven holes. Lewis’s famous killer instinct was palpable. Both players birdied 12, then collected pars on 13 and 14 and, playing shot-for-shot, stayed even going into 15. They both birdied 15 and 16 and were even at -9. Then Lewis broke the spell and fired one more birdie on 17 to pull ahead of Ko by a single shot, where she stayed to end the round.
It’s just nice to play with somebody when they’re playing well. It makes you play better. I think it’s made both of us kind of elevate our game.
It was an exciting day with a back nine that Lewis described as “fun to play” and riveting to watch, and today’s round is filled with the promise of another shootout that could be 3-way insteady of yesterday’s 2-way duel.
Hit it Long!
Jenny Shin had a remarkable third round at the Swinging Skirts. She started at -2, made her way around the course with an economical 25 putts, carded a 68, and was sitting in solo third place at the end of the round. Shin’s going to start the final round at -6, trailing Lewis by four strokes, and paired with the hot shooters today.
Shin had one goal heading in to the 2014 season and that was to stop leaving her putts short. It was a problem that had plagued Shin since she turned pro in 2011. She made a commitment to correct that single weakness in her game and that’s paid a huge dividend.
So hitting it past the hole was my main goal this year. I said, ‘I don’t care what I shoot, I’m just going to hit it past the hole.’ When you hit it in on right line, it starts going in. That was the key to my game.
Shin is ranked 26th in putting on the LPGA Tour to date this season with an average of 29.68 putts per round. (Last year, she ranked 77th in putting.) She exceeded her own average on Saturday en route to shooting 68, the second time in three rounds so far this week that she posted a 68. And she out-putted both Lewis, who needed 27 putts to complete her Saturday round, and Ko, who needed 28.
Jenny Shin’s bringing an exceptionally accurate and very determined game to her Sunday round. She’s paired with Lewis and Ko and I can easily see a three-way shootout this afternoon, or Shin quietly sliding right past Lewis and Ko while they slug it out for runner-up!
Inside the Top 10
Rolex Ranked 23 Hee Young Park carded a bogey-free 68 yesterday, a significant improvement over her previous rounds. Park’s going into Sunday five strokes off the lead and holding solo fourth on the board. She’s showing every sign that she’s figured out the Lake Merced course, and if there’s a fumble at the top of the board and Park plays steady she could surprise us.
Park’s paired today with Shanshan Feng and PK Kongkraphan, who are both starting the final round at -4, trailing Lewis’s lead by six strokes. With two eagles on her Saturday card, Feng picked up four strokes yesterday. Could she do it again today? She’s a long shot but Feng’s not out of the tourney yet.
Kongkraphan’s had ups and downs throughout the Swinging Skirts. She’s likely to finish in the top-10, but I don’t see her mounting a serious challenge to Lewis, Ko, and Shin’s apparent control of the tourney at this point.
Rookie Line Vedel has been playing solid golf this week. Rolex ranked no. 173, Vedel’s hunting her first top-10 Tour finish. Given the huge smile that’s been on her face every time Golf Channel found her, she’s clearly enjoying her game, the tourney, and the prospect of realizing that achievement this afternoon. She’s going into Sunday at -3 and holding solo the 8th slot on the board.
Vedel’s paired today with Karine Icher and Haeji Kang and if she holds steady and doesn’t make any major mistakes Vedel may be able to put her first top-10 finish on her young resume. I’m cheering for her to do just that!
Coming off a huge win in Hawaii last week, Michelle Wie (-1) came into this tournament a little more tired from the demands of being a champion once again. Asked if the demands presented any challenges coming into the week, Wie said she was a bit tired but that comes with the territory.
It’s a great golf course, a really tough golf course. . . Plays a lot different than last week. I think that was the biggest challenge. Just kind of treating this like a major golf course.
Going into Sunday even further down the board than Wie, Paula Creamer has struggled to get control of the Lake Merced course throughout the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. She inched up the board on Friday just enough to make the cut but despite an impressive eagle on the par 5 14th hole yesterday, at +5 Creamer won’t be in contention for a top-10 finish today.
Tiffany Joh, Heather Bowie Young and Mi Jung Hur will lead the start of the Sunday round at 8:25am local time. The leaders, Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko and Jenny Shin, playing in the final group, tee off at 1:35pm local time. After some brief morning showers, players should be able to complete their final rounds under sunny skies with light winds. Golf Channel picks up coverage mid-round at 7pm ET and will provide live commentary for the conclusion of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.