Cristie Kerr’s record-tying round on Friday rocketed the LPGA Tour veteran into contention at the Lotte Championship.
Su-Yeon Jang’s consistency over the tournament’s first three days kept the field chasing the relative newbie entering the final round at Ko Olina Golf Club.
After Kerr matched the event’s single-day record with a 10-under-par 62, Jang finished off her third straight bogey-free round to break the tournament’s 54-hole record at 17-under 199 and will carry a three-shot lead over Kerr and Alena Sharp into today’s play.
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Jang, a 22-year-old playing on a sponsor’s exemption, finished her second round Friday morning with a one-shot lead. She maintained her momentum through the break between rounds and a 55-minute rain delay to fire a 7-under 65 in the afternoon.
Jang and Kerr tee off at 1:06 p.m. today in the tournament’s final pairing and will both lean on experience — whether accumulated over the past year or the past 20 — in pursuit of the title.
Jang played in the final group in her Lotte debut last year and settled for fifth after closing with a 71. She went on to win two Korean LPGA tour events last season, including a victory at the Lotte Mart Women’s Open to earn a trip back to Hawaii this week and her fourth career LPGA start.
“Frankly, I was pretty nervous last year playing in the final group for the last two days (last year),” Jang said through an interpreter. “Obviously I’ve gained a good amount of experience doing that. Hopefully tomorrow I won’t get too nervous. I think that experience will help me play in the rest of the round.”
Jang was tied with Ariya Jutanugarn and In-Kyung Kim at 9 under through 16 holes on Thursday when play was suspended by darkness. She returned to the course at 7:45 a.m. and promptly birdied the par-3 eighth to take the solo lead, then recharged before starting her third round at 12:05 p.m.
“My eyes were starting to hurt a little bit, so I kept my eyes closed for a few minutes,” she said. “My dad really cooked up some good food. So some good food, got some rest, and got ready for the next round.”
She strung together three birdies from Nos. 5 to 7 and maintained the lead to position herself for a shot at becoming the first sponsor invite to win an LPGA event since Lydia Ko at the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2013.
“I think obviously the golf course has a lot of wind factor,” Jang said. “I think I have a lower trajectory than a lot of the other players, so I think it fits my game. Given the fact the greens are pretty receptive, I’m able to do what I want to do.”
Jang was just 2 when Kerr qualified for the LPGA Tour in 1997. Kerr’s 18 wins since include two majors. She’s hunting her first victory since the CME Group Tour Championship in 2015.
“I think (experience) plays a lot,” Kerr said. “(Today) I am going to try not to put too much pressure on myself. I’m just going to play my game, because inevitably I’m going to try to shoot as low as I can, and who cares about the lead? Because if I play better than everybody else, then I’ll have the lead at the end of tournament. That’s how I have to look at it.”
Two days after taking 32 putts in an opening round of 71, Kerr needed just 24 on Friday while matching the record set by Lizette Salas in the final round in 2013.
“The back nine (of) the second round I got some momentum going and some confidence with a very simple swing feel,” Kerr said after posting a 29 on the back nine.
“My job is to get it started on the line with the right speed, feel it, and try not to think about controlling it too much or being too tight. … Just try to send it on the line with the speed, and usually when I do that, they all go in.”
Pretty much everything she lined up on the back nine did find the cup, including a birdie from the fringe of the par-3 12th and a 70-footer on the 16th. Staring down a chance to tie Salas’ mark, she rolled in her 10th birdie of the round on No. 18, raising a fist before the ball disappeared.
Sharp kept pace with Jang for most of the day and is seeking her first LPGA win in her 240th start on tour. A fourth-place finish at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last year ranks as the best of her career. She missed the cut in her past three events and spent the week after the ANA Inspiration refining her putting stroke.
“I didn’t even know what I was shooting really,” Sharp said. “Just kind of on autopilot. Hit a lot of good shots. Got tougher when it got wet because (the ball) had a lot of backspin. It was tough on some of the hole locations to get it close today because of that.”
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