On a day when most players were moving backwards at Sebonack, Inbee Park extended her U.S. Women's Open lead lead on In-Kyung Kim to 4 shots and Jodi Ewart Shadoff to 7 shots, despite bogeying 3 holes in a row on the back.
At first, it looked like Park would blow out the field like Cristie Kerr and Ya Ni Tseng have done at Locust Hills in the Wegmans LPGA Championship in recent years. With her birdie on 9, she got to double digits under par and had extended her bogey-free run to 20 holes and counting. Meanwhile, Kim shot a 37 on the front, making 3 bogeys and a double in her 1st 7 holes, but bouncing back with birdies on 6, 8, and 9 to limit the damage. When Park parred 10 and Ewart Shadoff bogeyed it, Park's lead was 5 on both golfers.
Next, it looked like Park would let them back into the tournament with pushed approach shots and shaky short game on 11, 12, and 13. This was different from the back 9 at Locust Hill this year, when Park's driver was the culprit. This time, it looked like she all of a sudden forgot how to play Sebonack's contours and lost her feel with her wedges. But Kim and Ewart Shadoff failed to put extra pressure on Park while she was struggling. Each made a bogey on par 4 in that run and failed to birdie the par-5 13th.
The tide turned again when Park made a 20-foot double decker birdie putt on the difficult 14th and Kim and Ewart Shadoff responded with clutch birdies of their own. For the Korean players, their birdies sparked a return to their great golf of the 1st 2 rounds. Park ended up making birdies on 3 of her final 5 holes and Kim on 2 of them. Kim, who had been +4 over her 1st 7 holes, played her last 11 holes in -3. But for Ewart Shadoff, as for most of the rest of the field, the wheels came off down the stretch, as she made 2 bogeys in her last 3 holes and suffered her 2nd 40 of the week on the back. When the dust had settled, Park was -10, Kim was -6, and Ewart Shadoff was -3. So Yeon Ryu and Angela Stanford were the only other players to remain under par through 54 holes, but both bogeyed the par-5 18th to fall back to -1 for the week.
Once again, Park outplayed the field by a large margin. The only golfers to come within a single shot of her on moving day were Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, defending champion Na Yeon Choi, and Kristy McPherson, but the latter 3 sealed their fates before the weekend, Miyazato with a 76 on opening day, Choi with a 77 in round 2, and McPherson opening rounds of 74 and 75, and Creamer hasn't been able to get any momentum going all week. Probably the most they can hope for today is to fight back to E and hope everyone else collapses around them. But it seems pretty unlikely that Park will comply, to say the least. You could look at all the great golfers who blew up like Choi and Miyazato did at least once this week and say Park is due for a round in the mid-70s herself. However, Creamer and Karrie Webb (+3) haven't shot worse than 73 this week and Park is playing way better than they are. (Like Park, Webb bogeyed 3 holes in a row on the back, but unlike her she shot a 40 there yesterday exactly when she didn't need it.)
Frankly, the odds are that if conditions are tough enough to be tough on Park, they'll be disastrous for everyone else. After all, Anna Nordqvist (+3) and Karine Icher (+3) blew up with 77s on a day they could have struck a blow for Europe, and Catriona Matthew (+3) didn't do much better with a 74. Not that the Americans have much to say for themselves, either. Jessica Korda (76, +1) is entering the final round with her boyfriend on the bag after firing her caddie mid-way through Saturday's round. Cristie Kerr (+3) bogeyed 4 holes in a row on the back yesterday just when it seemed she was finally going to take advantage of her long experience on Sebonack and needed a birdie on 18 to salvage a 40 and a 74. Lexi Thompson (+4) was -2 and bogey-free over her last 7 holes, but had played so badly in the previous 11 that she still shot a 76. The best that can be said for Brittany Lincicome (+2) and Brittany Lang (+2) is that they both hung tough, but they still lost ground to Park after shooting a 74 and a 73, respectively. Lizette Salas suffered another round in the 80s in a major to fall back into the middle of the pack after entering the day at -4.
Of course, this is a U.S. Women's Open and anything can happen over the final 18 holes. But it's hard to imagine Inbee Park being in better position to make history today. I'd be shocked if she didn't end up with her 3rd major and 3rd win in a row when all is said and done.