U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Jutanugarn Seizes Control With 5-Under 67
June 2, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Ariya Jutanugarn took control of the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship on Saturday, posting a 5-under-par 67 to build a four-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s Round 4 as record-tying second-round leader Sarah Jane Smith slipped to a 2-over 74 at Shoal Creek.
“I said I’m just going to go out and have fun and make sure I have a good commitment, and I did,” said Jutanugarn, 22, who has eight LPGA victories, including the Kingsmill Championship on May 20. “My caddie [Les Luark] helped me because the first few holes, I tried to make a birdie or play good but he’s just like, ‘Go, do your best. That’s all you can do.’”
Jutanugarn’s best was good enough to overcome the three-stroke lead Smith held at the start of the round by the turn, as Jutanugarn shot 2-under 34 to Smith’s 2-over 38. Jutanugarn started strong with birdies on Nos. 1 (8-foot putt) and 3 (4-footer) while Smith was missing her own birdie bids, from 8 feet on No. 2 and 4 feet on No. 3.
“I think the nerves showed up in my putting,” said Smith, 33, who has not won in 10-plus years on the LPGA Tour. “I didn’t feel too bad, but I think when you are not getting the ball to the hole it probably proves that you are not letting it go and a bit of freedom in the putting. Hopefully I can hit a few putts tonight and get that nice flow going for tomorrow.”
Jutanugarn, who had missed the cut in all but one of her five previous Women’s Open starts, matched Smith’s opening-round 67 on Thursday, then fell three strokes behind as Smith duplicated her 67 on Friday. It gave Smith a record-tying 10-under total through 36 holes. Jutanugarn, meanwhile, was forced to play her final 10 holes of Round 2 on Saturday morning after weather delays halted play for nearly five hours on Friday.
After making the turn in Round 3, Jutanugarn added birdies on Nos. 11, 13, 14 and 15 to offset her lone bogey of the day, a three-putt on the par-3 16th hole. Smith, who had scorched the back nine in 31 strokes in both Rounds 1 and 2, failed to make a birdie on Saturday and will start Sunday’s Round 4 at 1:05 p.m. CDT with Jutarnugarn facing a four-stroke deficit. Hyo-Joo Kim, of the Republic of Korea, who shot 4-under 68 on Saturday to finish at 6 under through 54 holes, will play in the penultimate group on Sunday with countrywoman Jihyun Kim, who shot 70 on Saturday and is alone in fourth at 5 under par.
Jutanugarn reached 13 under on the 15th hole before her lone bogey of the day, becoming just the third player in Women’s Open history to reach that figure. She matched 1997 champion Alison Nicholas (who got to 13 under before finishing at 10 under) and Juli Inkster, who finished at 16 under in her 1999 victory.
Risk-Reward Opportunity: The par-5 11th hole, which played at 519 and 526 yards, respectively, in Rounds 1 and 2, was moved up to 460 yards for Saturday’s Round 3, giving most of the players in the field an opportunity to try to reach the green in two. Although just two players made eagle in Round 3 (Carlota Ciganda and amateur Patty Tavatanakit), nearly half of the field played the hole under par (30 of 63). The hole played a key role in the final grouping, as Sarah Jane Smith missed the green to the left with her second shot from 216 yards and made a disappointing par, while Ariya Jutanugarn hit a 4-iron approach to 15 feet from 202 yards for an easy two-putt birdie that extended her lead to two strokes.
Not a Fan of No. 9: Carlota Ciganda, of Spain, is tied for fifth place through three rounds, just four strokes out of second. If not for the ninth hole, she might be even closer to the leaders. Ciganda knocked her approach into the water fronting the green on the par-4 hole and made her second double bogey there, having also made 6 in Thursday’s opening round. Ciganda still has a very good chance to improve on her career-best finish of a tie for fifth in 2017.
Possible Finale?: Karrie Webb, of Australia, received a special exemption into this championship from the USGA, giving her 23 consecutive starts. The two-time champion, who turned 43 in December and has 41 LPGA Tour victories, noted earlier this week that she now considers herself a part-time player (this championship is her fourth event of 2018). If this turns out to be the final Women’s Open for the World Golf Hall of Famer, she closed it out in style. Webb had rounds of 75-75 to miss the cut, but closed out with a 10-foot birdie on her 36th hole on Saturday morning.
Missed Opportunities: Among the notable players to miss the cut, which fell at 4-over 148 on Saturday morning, were 2016 runner-up Anna Nordqvist (149), 2016 champion Brittany Lang (150), world No. 10 Jessica Korda (150), two-time runner-up Amy Yang (151), world No. 2 Shanshan Feng (152), defending champion Sung Hyun Park (153) and 2010 champion Paula Creamer (153).
The Social Situation
Emma Talley, the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and a “Tour Hopeful” member at Shoal Creek who completed 54 holes at 3 over par:
“It’s hard. You’re not getting any roll in the fairway so the course is playing pretty long. You’ve got to know where to land them and you’ve got to be spot on. You can’t be right or left; I mean, you’ve got to be pretty much perfect to make birdies. Par is not so hard but to make birdies is very difficult out there.”
Having watched Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand play a nearly flawless round in besting Sara Jane Smith by seven strokes in Round 3, perhaps it’s understandable that Smith wasn’t interested in having Thai food for dinner Saturday night for the fourth night in a row – but the superstitious Smith insisted it had nothing to do with Ariya:
“We have been having Thai every night because we had it on Wednesday night and then shot 5 under. Then I shot 5 under again. I love Thai; it’s one of my favorite foods. But I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to have it tonight [after shooting 2-over 74].”
Ariya Jutanugarn, on how well she expected to sleep with the four-stroke lead, noting that she woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday to complete her weather-interrupted Round 2:
“I think I’m going to sleep pretty well [tonight] because I didn’t sleep much last night and I’m so tired right now.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.