Well, that was worth the watch and we get to see it again on Sunday.
So Yeon Ryu went from two strokes down to two strokes up in the space of three holes on a sweltering Saturday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when her putter got as hot as the 108-degree heat index at Kemper Lakes and Brooke Henderson’s went ice cold. Beginning the third round tied with Henderson and Sung Hyun Park, Ryu now sits alone atop the leaderboard.
Ryu rode her magic wand to a 67 and is at 11-under-par 205 going into the final round. Henderson is three back at 208 with Park at 209. The great news is that because of threatening weather, they will play in threesomes on Sunday, putting Ryu, Henderson and Park in what should be a highly entertaining matchup in the final group of the day.
When Henderson made a two-putt birdie on the par-5 seventh hole, she had a two-stroke lead over Ryu. The 20-year-old Canadian seemed like she was operating under cruise control, maintaining that two-stroke advantage through 13 holes, and then she hit a bump in the road.
Ryu started to feel it with the putter when she made a 15-footer for birdie on No. 11 after a very difficult bunker shot, allowing her to match another Henderson two-putt birdie. The comeback got into full motion on No. 14 when Ryu made a 15-footer for birdie and Henderson missed a 5-footer for par for a two-stroke swing that created a tie at the top.
That didn’t last long as Ryu rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the next hole and Henderson missed her 10-foot birdie try. And on No. 16, Henderson missed a 7-foot par putt then Ryu rolled in a 6-footer for par and a two-stroke lead. Ryu capped things off with a 15-footer for birdie on the final hole to get her three-stroke advantage.
“I think the 11th, par-5 was really, really big momentum,” said Ryu, who can take over No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings with a win here. “My third shot was quite a tough bunker shot, so I had to go a little sideways, and then I made a 15-foot birdie putt. After that, I felt more comfortable with putting. Right now, I feel pretty confident on the putting green.”
Once she got her confidence in gear, Ryu was relentless. There was simply an air of inevitability every time she unleashed her silky-smooth putting stroke, rolling ball after ball into the dead center of the cup.
“I knew the 16th was a really, really important par putt,” she said. “The chip shot was tougher than I expected, so I was quite nervous, but I'm glad I made a par. I was a little disappointed when I missed that birdie putt at 17 after that fantastic tee shot, but I was able to make a birdie at the last.”
Angel Yin, a 19-year-old who bombs it 272 yards on average – 5th best on tour – climbed the leaderboard into fourth place at 210 with a 68 that could have been better but for an errant iron shot into the hazard on No. 16, where she made double bogey. Bronte Law, a 23-year-old from England, is fifth at 211 followed by Carlota Ciganda, In-Kyung Kim, Dani Holmqvist and Hyo Joo Kim at 212. Thirteen players were in a knot at 213.
For Henderson, who has now played 15 rounds in this tournament since it was reborn as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and has never finished a round out of the top 10 and 14 times has been in the top five, this was a bitter pill to swallow.
“I feel like all parts of my game are pretty strong this week,” Henderson said. “I feel like I can really depend on my tee shots and my long game. I've been hitting it close and giving myself good looks for birdie. Today, I kind of struggled a little bit with my putter, which is disappointing, but I think just kind of get better in my head and just go out tomorrow and made a lot of good shots and see if I can make some birdies, and hopefully they roll in.”
Everyone in the final group is familiar with the pressure of Sunday in a major championship and has proven she can handle it. Ryu won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2017 ANA Inspiration; Park took last year’s U.S. Women’s Open and Henderson captured the 2016 Women’s PGA Championship.
Foul weather has haunted the tour this year, but this time there is a silver lining behind those dark clouds. Because of them, we get the dream group of Ryu, Henderson and Park. That will be worth the price of admission alone. What more can you ask for than three major championship winners going head-to-head in the final round of a major?