3rd-round leader of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic Chella Choi made more bogeys in her 1st 12 holes today than in her previous 54, opening the door to a slew of golfers who were going low when it mattered the most. Ji-Yai Shin fired a bogey-free 63 to join her at -19 for the week, and they were joined by Ariya Jutanugarn (65), Karrie Webb (68), and Anna Nordqvist (69). But as well as all of them played this week--and as well as Mo Martin (64, -14), Hee Kyung Seo (65, -17), and Marcy Hart (65, -7) played today--they couldn't match the trio at the very top of the leaderboard.
Jessica Korda was going for her 2nd win of her career and after her 3rd birdie of the day, on the par-5 6th, she was already at -19. Pornanong Phatlum was trying to match Onnarin Sattayabanphot's win on the JLPGA earlier in the day, but it took her 9th birdie of the day, on the par-3 17th, to get to -19. By then, Jennifer Johnson, also going for her 1st LPGA victory, had reached -19 with her 6th birdie of the day, on the par-3 14th. Phatlum was the 1st of the 3 to finish, and she did it in style, making her 3rd birdie in a row to close out her 63 for the day and finish the tournament at -20. Korda, meanwhile had fallen to -17 with 6 holes left to play, but birdied 13, 15, and 16 to get to -20. By then, however, Johnson had birdied 16 and 17 to become the 1st player in the field to reach -21. When she parred the par-4 18th, she set a tournament record. Could Korda match it and force a playoff? A bogey on the 17th ended her hopes, but she did birdie the 18th to join Phatlum at -20.
And just like that, a Young American had entered the winner's circle, following up on Stacy Lewis, who actually improved on last year's winning total by a shot, but ended up 3 behind the 3rd-year pro whose best 2 previous finishes had come at the Navistar Classic (8th in 2011, 11th in 2012). The Arizona State grad had been hitting the ball great all season, but her putter had never really caught fire until this week. It's a huge surprise that Johnson prevailed over much bigger names, but that's why they play 72 holes, and over that span she missed only 4 fairways and 9 greens.
This was also a good week for LPGA rookie and JLPGA star Chie Arimura, who played 20 holes between her back 9 Saturday and early on her back 9 Sunday bogey-free and -11. That's where she ended up for the week, which was good enough for her 1st top 25 finish as an LPGA member. It was also great to see Tiffany Joh get double digits under par in a state where she had memorably duelled Lexi Thompson down the home stretch. Azahara Munoz shot her 2nd mid-60s round of the week to get to -14, joining Martin, Thidappa Suwannapura, Mariajo Uribe, Eun-Hee Ji, and Sydnee Michaels, while Mina Harigae joined Arimura and a host of big names at -11.
This was certainly a confidence-boosting week for a lot of golfers and many of them will get to celebrate and try to keep the momentum going in the Bahamas next week. But none more than Johnson, who is now a serious contender for a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team. There are going to be a lot of Young Americans vying for those last few guaranteed spots. The next few weeks and months should be very interesting!