Photo courtesy of Tristan Jones Photography
Katherine Kirk will tee off in the final group at the rain-shortened Evian Championship in France tonight searching for her first major Championship. The Queenslander will start just 2 shots back at 7 under par, and given the two players sitting ahead of her on the leaderboard are yet to win on the LPGA Tour looks to be in with a great chance to win the tournament now reduced to 54 holes.
Kirk opened the championship with a superb 5 under par round of 66, and was forced to battle hard after a poor start to her second round after bogeys at the 6th and 8th hole. She fought back with a birdie at the 9th hole to make the turn at one over par, and another birdie at the par 5 13th hole got her back to even par for the round. A chip in for birdie at 16 got her back into red figures for the day, before she finished off with a birdie at 17 and a solid par 4 at the tough 18th hole to sign for a 2 under par round of 69.
Kirk's previous best finish in a major championship was in 2010 when she finished runner-up to Yani Tseng at the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale. The 35-year-old will feel that she let that one get away after not getting up and down to force a playoff from just over the back of the green at the 72nd hole, and tonight has a chance for redemption on the shores of Lake Geneva in France.
Kirk came into this week’s event brimming with confidence after turning her form around this year, capturing her first LPGA title since 2010 at the Thornberry Classic in Wisconsin in early July.
“That was a huge confidence boost, especially after struggling for a couple years and questioning whether I'd be playing much longer”
“it's just -- yeah, nice to know you can still do it at 35 years old and as one of the older players out here”
“I mean, golf is funny; I wasn't expecting it for sure, but yeah, I kind of surprised myself even, and certainly since then, it's just, yeah, been nice. Hey, you know what, I can win out here, and just keep believing and keep doing the right things, and you never know what happens.
“I changed coaches at the end of 2015 and just slowly things are starting to kick in, so better ball-striking, and my misses aren't as bad. When that happens, I mean, I still do make the occasional double, but it's just not as bad as it used to be.”
Moruya Jutanugarn, older sister of former World Number One, Ariya, is still yet to win on the LPGA Tour and will take a one-shot lead over Japan’s Ayako Uehara into the final round.
Lurking in 4th place just three shots off the lead are recent major champions I.K. Kim and Sung Hyun Park, along with former world number 1 Lydia Ko who is coming off a second-place finish to Lexi Thompson in Indianapolis last week.
Jutanugarn, who was the LPGA Tour rookie of the year in 2013, has had a breakout year so far in 2017 with eight top ten finishes from 22 starts including a third-place finish in Portland and 10th place in Indianapolis in her most recent events.
Her name has been a frequent feature on LPGA leaderboards in 2017 and the 23-year-old finally has the opportunity to break out of the shadow of her more famous sister.
As expected comparisons between the sisters came up during her post round media conference.
“Well, yeah, she won a major last year. That's her really first major. And of course we really are really for her. I'm really happy for her. Well, it's just like I try to keep working on my game, keep improve whatever I can”
“It's just like my big goal, as I always say, I want to win my first tournament. But I don't really like have to push -- like I don't want to be really pushy, like it has to be next week, next month. It's just like I'm trying to put myself in a good position, and when it's my time, probably it will turn out good.”
When asked how she feels about her position heading into the final round Jutanagarn said that she would just play her own game;
“Well, every day people wake up they always feel different. It won't be the same, but I mean, I just want to keep doing what I want to do, just you know, like try to play my game and focus on what I can do and what I can -- you know, what is under my control. I think that's very important for tomorrow.”
Uehara is also chasing her first LPGA Tour victory after three victories on the JLPGA Tour prior to joining the LPGA Tour, and is heading into unchartered territory playing in the final group at a major championship.
Lydia Ko seems to be very well placed just three shots back. The Kiwi superstar has a superb record at this Championship and with her confidence seemingly restored after last weeks’ finish, it would be no surprise to see her in the finish.
“I think it would just give myself confidence that I'm still playing good,” said Ko when asked what it would mean to win this week .
“I played good last week, and I think that really helped just mentally inside. Not saying to anybody else but to me that, hey, you're playing good stuff, and you just have to be patient and be positive. Even when I was struggling, I felt like there were so many positives."
Ko spoke about the advice she has had from those close to her, but also highlighted some recent advice from her playing partner last week, Stacy Lewis.
“She said don't get caring about what happened last year or what's the difference. I'm different now to what I was a year ago, and I think she really put it into great perspective for me. She said like a few really nice things throughout these years I've been on Tour, and it's so cool”
“Obviously we're competing against each other, but she's been super supportive and really nice, so I really.. it was really cool, yeah.”
Of the other Australians in the field this week Su Oh and Minjee Lee are at 3 under par heading into the final round tied for 15th place, while Sarah Jane Smith is at 1 under par tied for 27th place. Karrie Webb did not make it to the final round missing the cut by 2 shots.
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