Thanks to a 6-birdie 66 today, Carlota Ciganda enters the final round of the North Texas LPGA Shootout with a 2-shot lead on world #1 Inbee Park and the leader-for-the-previous-2-rounds Caroline Masson, while world #3 Na Yeon Choi fired a bogey-free 66 of her own to pull within 3 shots of the lead.
Ciganda has been bombing it (and spraying it) around Las Colinas, averaging 270 yards off the tee but averaging fewer than 5 fairways per round, yet that hasn't been stopping her from hitting a lot of greens (almost 14 per round) and making a lot of putts. She was -11 with 6 holes left to play today and that's where she ended up after bogeying the 14th and birdieing the 17th. Park, too has been less accurate off the tee than usual, but has missed only 7 greens in 54 holes and finally got her putter going on the back 9 today, where she fired a bogey-free 31. Masson opened her round today with a double and when she bogeyed the par-3 6th she had played her previous 10 holes, dating back to the end of yesterday's round, in +5 (her lone birdie of that slide coming on the previous par 3)--but she showed great resilience in playing her last 12 holes bogey-free and -4 to join Park at -9 for the week. Choi, meanwhile, is on a bogey-free run of 35 holes and counting (she's made only 2 bogeys and 1 double all week, while missing only 9 greens in regulation), a stretch in which she moved from E to -8. If she really gets her putter tomorrow, she's going to win.
That's not to say it's guaranteed to be a 4-player race for the top tomorrow. There are 4 players at -6, from world #6 So Yeon Ryu and Class of 2006er Jee Young Lee to low American Christina Kim and the underrated Karine Icher, all of whom fired 67s except for Ryu, who eagled the par-5 3rd and still hasn't made a bogey since the 6th hole on Thursday, but could manage only 1 more birdie the rest of the day (I have a feeling those 37 putts she took in the 1st round will have dug her too big a hole to climb out of in the last 18 holes of the tournament). With Suzann Pettersen, In-Kyung Kim, and Shanshan Feng at -5, and Ya Ni Tseng, Brittany Lincicome, and Moriya Jutanugarn at -4, we have decent odds that someone from well back could go on a serious tear and put some big-time pressure on the 4 leaders.
There sure are a lot of American flags at -2 and -3, from Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, and Kristy McPherson to Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and Mo Martin to Moira Dunn, Jennifer Johnson, Mindy Kim, and Kathleen Ekey, but they'll need miracles on Sunday to have a hope in...uh, North Texas.
Oh, and for what it's worth, the cut line for the top 50 and ties came in at +1, which saved the likes of Ji-Yai Shin, Azahara Munoz, Momoko Ueda, and Jane Park, but left Brittany Lang, Candie Kung, Michelle Wie, Jennifer Song, Sun Young Yoo, Hee-Won Han, Beatriz Recari, and teenage amateur Taylor Coleman out in the cold. I can't say I'm all that excited about lopping off another 20 or so players from the field. If you want to have 50 or so golfers playing on Sunday, I don't see why you wouldn't give more people a chance to get there by letting the top 90 or 100 play on Saturday. And if you want to preserve the normal LPGA cut of top 70 and ties after the end of Friday's round for consistency, why not make the Saturday cut more meaningful by leaving only 36 golfers for the final round, with a playoff for the last spot? Frankly, there wasn't a whole lot of drama at the bottom of the leaderboard besides Dewi Claire Schreefel's 7-birdie 65 that brought her to -3 for the week and earned her the low round of the day today (and maybe Eun-Hee Ji's 4-birdie 68 that got her back to E). Mostly it was people moving in the wrong direction, just less sharply than the unlucky few who got chopped....
But enough about what might improve the tournament for next year. We've got a Sunday where a pair of Team Euro newbies face off against the top 2 South Korean golfers in the world in the final 2 pairings of the tournament. In the final group, we have the woman who earned the most Euros on the LET last year vs. the woman who took the fewest strokes on the LPGA. In the next-to-last, NYC spots a shot to the woman 51 slots behind her on the Rolex Rankings. And if you keep going backward on the pairing sheet, you'll see a couple more Euro vs. Korea groups, Karine Icher vs. Jee Young Lee and Suzann Pettersen vs. In-Kyung Kim.
If we do end up with an international player winning tomorrow, I sure hope she'll remember what Mi Hyun Kim did when she got what turned out to be the last LPGA victory of her career not all that far from Dallas and similarly close to a tragic disaster of that time....
[Update (11:54 pm): Bangkokbobby is back blogging again, so head over to Fairways and Forehands for his usual mix of pithy observation and loads of video and photos!]