If Belen Mozo is going to win her first LPGA Tour event on Sunday, she’ll need to hold off a charging Brooke Henderson.
Friday, Mozo soared to the top of the leaderboard with a 64 on Friday at the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open, which gave her a five-stroke lead heading into the weekend. She needed that cushion Saturday as Henderson, who started the day five-back, posted a five-under par 67 to cut Mozo’s lead to one. The Spaniard managed a one-under par, 71 to remain atop the leaderboard at 15-under par. She’ll have two major champions chasing her on Sunday with Henderson just one behind at 14-under par and Brittany Lincicome tied for third at 11-under par along with Jing Yan.
“It was a grind-out day for sure. I had to talk to my caddie in the middle of the round because obviously I couldn’t compare the golf I was playing today with the golf that I played yesterday under perfect conditions,” said Mozo. “I was able to manage bad shots better than yesterday, and converted a not-so-good round into an under-par round, so that’s fine.”
In unfamiliar territory, Mozo, who is looking to win for the first time on Sunday, remained steady as players surged up the leaderboard behind her. Given her lack of experience in this position, having never slept on the lead on the LPGA Tour prior to this week, she showed great composure as she rolled in an eight-footer for par at the par 5, 18th hole to maintain her lead heading into Sunday.
“It was a tough day out there and I feel like sometimes I played too safe and it was costing me,” said Mozo. “I was very happy when I converted those long birdies when I missed a shot.”
The performance Mozo has put on this week, which produced a Tournament low 64 on Friday, shouldn’t come as a surprise as Mozo twice finished runner-up in 2016 on the Ladies European Tour.
When Henderson arrived at Windross Farm for the first time this week, she admitted the course wasn’t the type of track where she’s typically success. Three of her four victories came on tree-lined courses. But she might be changing her tune as she now sits just one-stroke back of the lead and positioned for her second win of the season.
“I am extremely happy with my 5-under, especially with no bogeys on the card because it was really tough conditions, with the wind really picking up especially on our back nine,” said Henderson. “I am excited to be in the spot I am in right now and hopefully I can go out tomorrow and make a lot more birdies and see what happens.”
Despite missing four fairways and six greens during Saturday’s round, the Canadian recovered with an impressive display of short game prowess. Her chipping saved her round and set her up for enough tap in birdies to overcome the five-stroke deficit from which she started the day. Henderson will have experience on her side come Sunday as she’s come from behind to win two of her four victories on the LPGA Tour.
“My chipping was probably the key today. I got up and down a bunch of times especially early in the round that kept me in it,” said Henderson. “I have played really well in all three rounds this week and I have some good momentum going into tomorrow.”
Don’t count out long-hitting Lincicome, who matched the low round of the day Saturday with a six-under par, 66 to sit just four-back of the lead. Lincicome came from behind to win both of her major championships.
“The golf course sets up for my game. I can bomb it on most holes and not get into too much trouble or I can hit 3-wood and still get it down there. It just depends on the weather tomorrow,” Lincicome said about Sunday's rainy forecast. “I like to think I am good under the pressure of weather, but me and wet weather are not the best of friends, so hopefully it will pass through like it did today with a couple of showers.
With inclement weather forecasted Sunday, tee times for the final round have been moved up. Groups of three will tee off beginning at 7:45 a.m. off the first tee and at 7:40 a.m. off the 10th tee. All times are local.