Jutanugarn takes lead heading to final round of U.S. Women’s Open

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – On an afternoon where low scoring was tough to come by for several golfers at the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open, world No. 5 Ariya Jutanugarn vaulted up the leaderboard to take the lead heading into Sunday’s final round at Shoal Creek after entering the third round trailing by three strokes.

“Today I felt like I was just going to go out and have fun and make sure I have very good command and I did,” Jutanugarn said after the round.

After finishing her second round earlier in the morning, Jutanugarn started her third round with two birdies in the first three holes to get within a shot of Sarah Jane Smith’s lead.

That’s the way things stood for a while on the front nine before Smith made back-to-back bogeys on eight and nine. All of a sudden, Jutanugarn had jumped in front by a stroke with pars on those same two holes.

While Smith was consistent the rest of the way with pars on all nine holes on the back side, Jutanugarn was just getting started.

She sandwiched a birdie in between two pars to start the back nine before reeling off three consecutive birdies on holes 13-15 to take a five-stroke lead at one point by reaching 13-under par.

She immediately gave one stroke back on the 210-yard par-3 16th hole to fall back to 12 under, but was able to respond with two clutch pars to end the round with a 5-under par 67 to post 12 under through three rounds.

“My putting been working pretty good,” Jutanugarn said. “I mean, I didn’t hit the tee shot that good today, but my iron was pretty good. I started to make some putts on the back nine.”

She’ll enter the final round with a four-stroke lead on Smith, as one of those two players has had a share of the lead every day of the tournament to this point.

Smith was able to hit the ball well, but just couldn’t get a birdie putt to drop and ended her round with a 2-over par 74 as she’ll look to overcome a four-stroke deficit.

“I know Ariya is going to go out and have a great day tomorrow, so I’m going to have to play well to catch her,” Smith said. “I’ve shown I can do it this week, so I’ll just go out tomorrow and see what happens.”

While it will be tough to come back from further behind, the pressure of closing out a U.S. Open leaves the door open for anything to happen.

Other players looking to take advantage should she struggle on Sunday are Hyo-Joo Kim and Jihyun Kim.

“Well, realistically, I’m a few strokes behind her,” Hyo-Joo Kim. “But this course has been pretty good to Korean players, so I have not given up. I’m going in tomorrow with the hopes that I might have that chance. Who knows.”

She has a reason to feel confident after shooting the best round of the afternoon outside of Jutanugarn thanks to a 4-under par round of 68 to climb up the leaderboard into solo third.

“I didn’t have too many mistakes,” Hyo-Joo Kim said. “Whenever the opportunity presented for me to get a birdie, I think I managed to capture that. So I’m also happy about that.”

Behind the two Koreans was a group of three players tied for fifth at 4-under par, including world No. 1 Inbee Park, who shot a 1-under round of 71, as well as Carlota Ciganda and Madelene Sagstrom.

The rest of the top 10 concluded with one player at 2-under par in Wei-Ling Hsu, and five players at 1-under par for a total of 13 players under par entering the final round.

Michelle Wie, who entered the third round at 3-under par, fell back to 1-over par, despite getting to 4-under early in the round, after five bogeys over her final 15 holes of the day.

Lexi Thompson was 2-under par in the third round to get back to Even par, while Nelly Korday got to 1-under par with a round of 71 and Megan Khang also got to 1-under par with a round of 69.

The final round will begin on Sunday at 7:40 a.m. with the final pair scheduled to tee off at 1:05 p.m.

Before she left the course, Jutanugarn joked about not having trouble sleeping on the lead because she had been at the course since 6 a.m. that morning and was extremely tired.