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Tavatanakit continues to hold ANA Inspiration lead through 54 holes

TAVATANAKIT CONTINUES TO HOLD ANA INSPIRATION LEAD THROUGH 54 HOLES

Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit continued her seemingly easy week at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, carding a 67 on Saturday to stay atop the ANA Inspiration leaderboard at -14 heading into Sunday’s final round. Tavatanakit, who holds the 54-hole lead for the first time in her LPGA Tour career, is five strokes ahead of defending champion Mirim Lee and LPGA Tour winner Ally Ewing, tied for second at -9.

Tavatanakit, a 2020/21 LPGA Tour rookie, fired off three consecutive birdies in her first three holes, distancing herself from the surge of major champions and Tour winners lurking behind. The former UCLA All-American knew how crucial the fast start was toward building momentum.

“It's always nice to have a good start to feel a little bit more comfortable throughout the day. I was hitting it really good. I'm putting so well right now. Just really pleased with how everything played out,” said Tavatanakit, whose 202 ties the 54-hole scoring record set by eventual champion Pernilla Lindberg in 2018. “Obviously it was a little tough today, too, toward the end. It was hot. It was getting windy. Even though like I shot good scores, like the process was still a little bit challenging.”

Tavatanakit made the turn at -13, but as the temperatures rose, her game was challenged on her back nine. The Thai native and 2019 Symetra Tour Player of the Year carded three birdies and two bogeys in her final nine holes and said staying patient was the key to overcoming the day’s challenges.

“I play aggressive when I can be and you got to play smart golf. It's a major championship. It's pins are tough, tough conditions,” said Tavatanakit. “You’ve got to have the things you need to go out and execute and embrace all the challenges out there.”

A win tomorrow would make her the fourth player to win wire-to-wire with no ties, and the first since Karrie Webb in 2000. Tavatanakit could become the first rookie to win the major championship since Juli Inkster in 1984 and the fourth consecutive player to win the ANA as her first major title. But after an exhausting day, she isn’t trying to overthink anything before Sunday’s final round.

“Today I'm going to leave it behind. It's a great day, acknowledged it, and it's in the past now. All I can think about is what can I do tomorrow, what can I improve from today's round? I was getting a little tired at the end. What can I do to keep my energy level up throughout the day tomorrow? That's going to be my goal,” said Tavatanakit. “And just stay calm out there. I feel like I did that pretty well. And just have the golf, so whatever the outcome is I'll be really happy. It's been a good week so far.”

Ewing will join Tavatanakit in the major’s final grouping after carding a third-round 66, her career-low round at the ANA Inspiration. The 28-year-old went bogey-free, recording six birdies, including three consecutive to start off her round on Nos. 1-3, just like Tavatanakit. Lee, who also sits at -9 alongside Ewing, said she’s been working on being more comfortable in her swing and was proud of her effort at Mission Hills Country Club.

“It just tough today. Weather is little hotter than yesterday and then course was difficult today. It's windy and then little firmer than yesterday. So, yeah, but I made good score today,” said Lee, who with a win would become just the second player to successfully defend at the ANA Inspiration, joining Annika Sorenstam (2001, 2002).

Tavatanakit’s playing partner on Saturday, major champion Shanshan Feng, shot even par on the day and sits in solo fourth at -8. Feng carded a lone birdie on No. 2, but bogeyed No. 13 to stay in contention.

“I think overall I did okay. I mean, I hit the balls very well. Only thing I was missing a little bit was my putting today. I was just struggling with the speed a little bit. But other than that, I think it was perfect,” said Feng. “I'm mentally very fresh, but I would say that I am a little more tired than the beginning of the week. But I'm very happy that I got three down and just one more to go. I think I still have enough energy for that.”

2013 ANA Inspiration champion Inbee Park and Charley Hull are in fifth at -7, with Gaby Lopez, Lydia Ko, Jin Young Ko and Moriya Jutanugarn rounding out the top-10 in a tie for seventh at -6.

WITH A WIN

Patty Tavatanakit would be the first rookie to win the ANA Inspiration since Juli Inkster in 1984

Tavatanakit would become the fourth wire-to-wire winner (no ties) and first since Karrie Webb in 2000

Tavatanakit would be the 14th different player in LPGA Tour history to win a major championship title as a rookie

Tavatanakit would become the first Rolex First-Time Winner of the 2021 season; she would be the sixth player to become a Rolex First-Time Winner at the ANA Inspiration

Tavatanakit, Ally Ewing or Charley Hull would be the 19th players to earn their first major title at the ANA Inspiration

Tavatanakit would become the second UCLA Bruin to ever win a major championship, joining Mo Martin (2014 AIG Women’s Open)

Ewing would earn her second-career Tour victory; she earned her first at the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship – Reynolds Lake Oconee

Ewing would cross the $2 million mark in career earnings with the $465,000 winner’s check ($2377,768)

Ewing would be the first American to win a major since Angela Stanford won the 2018 Amundi Evian Championship

Mirim Lee would be the second player to defend her ANA Inspiration title, joining Annika Sorenstam (2001, 2002)

Lee or Inbee Park would become a two-time winner of the ANA Inspiration, joining seven other players as multiple winners of the major championship

Shanshan Feng would become a two-time major champion; she earned her first major title at the 2012 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

Feng would earn her 11th LPGA Tour victory, and first since the 2019 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic

With the $465,000 winner’s check, Feng would be projected to move up one spot to No. 11 on the Career Money List ($11,925,401)

Inbee Park would become the 19th player to win a major and the tournament before, and first since Lydia Ko in 2016 (Kia Classic, ANA Inspiration)

PATTY TAVATANAKIT, SHANSHAN FENG LEARN FROM EACH OTHER’S SUCCESS 
Saturday’s final group had the unlikely duo of two-time major champion Shanshan Feng, kicking off her 14th season on the LPGA Tour, and Patty Tavatanakit, a second-year rookie looking for her first LPGA Tour title. At first glance, one would think that Feng might have schooled her younger competitor on the finer points of major competition. But instead, it was the veteran who looking to the newbie and the next generation of LPGA Tour players for a renewed sense of optimism as she competes for the first time since November 2019. 

“I do think all the girls, they just improved a lot. They learned in the right ways, which maybe when we grew up we were still trying to find the right ways,” said Feng. “I think now they got everything together and they're so ready. I'm just so happy to see that, and I hope that now we have some very good talents from Thailand, Japan, Korea, America, and I hope to see our Chinese talents coming up.” 

For her part, Tavatanakit relished every second inside the ropes with Feng, saying that she learned as much from her behavior as she did her game. 

“It was really fun and relaxing. I feel like I really like her demeanor on the course, relaxed,” said Tavatanakit, who has never held the lead going into the final round of an LPGA Tour event. “I feel like that kind of helped me a little bit just be relaxed. It's a final group. Like it's a lot of pressure.” 

Yes, this is a new level of pressure, leading at a major championship. But Tavatanakit is no stranger to the pressure that comes with holding a big lead. She carried a five-stroke lead into the final round of the Symetra Tour’s 2019 Danielle Downey Credit Union Classic, one of her three victories that season. And with seven more wins to her name during her two years at UCLA, the 21-year-old Thai is a prime candidate to make the leap into Poppie’s Pond come Sunday afternoon.  

“I know it's going to be tough. If I'm going to be able to pull it out it's going to be tough,” said Tavatanakit. “I got to be ready for all the challenges out there, which I think my mentality was (ready to do). I was just like whatever it takes, just us give it to me. I'm ready to play.” 

ALLY EWING MAKES BIGGEST MOVING DAY JUMP 
Saturday’s lowest round belonged to Ally Ewing, who opened with three straight birdies and added in three more on the back nine for a 6-under 66. That career-low round on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course jumped the Mississippi native from a tie for 20th into a tie for second with defending champion Mirim Lee heading into Sunday’s final round of the ANA Inspiration. 

“It was just kind of just a great day. I hit a lot of fairways, greens, which is crucial in a major, especially out here,” said Ewing, whose best ANA finish is a tie for sixth in 2019. “Even if I look back on my day, I missed several putts inside 10 feet. But, I mean, a 66 on Moving Day, certainly all you can ask for to put yourself in a good position for tomorrow.” 

If Ewing were to emerge victorious on Sunday, she would become the 19th player to earn her first major title at the ANA Inspiration and the fourth consecutive, joining Pernilla Lindberg (2018), Jin Young Ko (2019) and Mirim Lee (2020). She would also become the first American major winner since Angela Stanford won the 2018 Amundi Evian Championship and the first major winner ever from Mississippi State University.  

Ewing became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship at Reynolds Lake Oconee, celebrating that first victory on her 28th birthday. With the win came confidence and experience that she plans to rely upon as she steps to the tee in Sunday’s final round with a major title on the line, playing in the final group alongside leader Patty Tavatanakit

“To rely on something that you've done before I think is a very settling feeling,” said Ewing. “Certainly it's a major championship and it's a little bit different, but I think the biggest part for me when I got that win was the day before and the morning before I teed off every day, on Saturday, Sunday I had great conversations with my caddie and just making myself aware of the uncomfortability that I was going to feel and acknowledging that. 

“If you try to brush it off and put it to the side, then you're not acknowledging the truth. So I'm going to go ahead and acknowledge that it's probably going to be tough tomorrow. I'm going to feel uncomfortable at times, but I'll embrace it and try to do the best I can.”

EUBANKS: FAST AND FURIOUS: KORDA AND LEWIS MAKE EARLY WAVES ON SATURDAY MORNING

The cutline was 1-over par, just about what was expected given the major-championship conditions of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills. But what wasn’t expected was the fast and furious start a couple of players made in the warm morning hours on Saturday, long before the leaders teed off.

First came Jessica Korda. The winner of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions was first player out. Because an odd number made the cut, Korda went out alone and played at a pace that would have made Old Tom Morris proud. From the first tee shot until the final putt, Korda took 2 hours and 53 minutes to shoot 68. And for a long time, it looked a lot better than that. The 28-year-old was 6-under par for the round through 17 holes, but a pushed tee shot into thick rough on 18, followed by a layup in a divot and a chunked wedge into the water, resulted in a double-bogey finish.

“After yesterday being really slow and waiting on just about every shot, this was really, really nice,” Korda said. “The way golf should be played.”

Speaking of how the game should be played, Stacy Lewis played 18 near-perfect holes in the middle of this championship. They just happened to be on the same nine holes.

Starting on the back nine on Friday, Lewis shot 38 and turned at plus-6 for the championship, well outside the cut line. Her parents, Dale and Carol, were already looking at change fees for their flight home when Stacy birdied No.1 (her 10th hole of the day). Late in the afternoon, Lewis rolled in a birdie at No. 9 to shoot 31 and make the cut on the number.

Back out on the front nine on Saturday morning, Lewis picked up where she left off. She made six birdies and no bogeys to shoot 30 – an unofficial 61 on the front nine. But the back bit her again. Lewis made triple-bogey on the par-3 14th and closed with a 37 for a respectable 67 on Saturday.

“I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of really good iron shots and I really didn't miss a golf shot until 14,” Lewis said. “So just hit it really solid and got the putter going late yesterday. But it’s pretty crazy. I mean, you add those two nines together and I shoot 61, so that’s pretty sweet.”

Ana Inspiration / Local Sports Events

Taylor Begley

Taylor Begley is a Sports Anchor and Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. You can also catch her anchoring weather on the weekends. Learn more about Taylor here.

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