ROGERS – On a scorching hot day in Arkansas, it was Lydia Ko and Morgan Pressel who caught fire.
Saturday at the Walmart NW Arakansas Championship, Ko carded a nine-under par, 62 to match the Tournament scoring record and move into a share of the lead with Morgan Pressel at 14-under par. Pressel also went low on Saturday, posting her low round of the year, bettering her previous low round on Friday, with a bogey-free eight-under par, 63 to hold the 36-hole lead for the seventh time in her career. Pressel is a two-time winner on Tour, her last victory coming in Hawaii in 2008.
“Certainly winning is the goal, and what I'd like to do tomorrow, you know, step by step, you have to start with a good drive on the first hole and just ‑‑ if I play anywhere near like I did today, I think that I can get it done. I'm definitely in a good position, and I just am going to go to the range, make sure everything's all set for tomorrow and ready to go, and come out swinging,” Pressel told the media.
Ko heads into the final round in a much different position than her playing partner, having already picked up two wins this season in back-to-back weeks at the Kia Classic and ANA Inspiration. The world No.1 has come close to winning in Arkansas, never finishing outside the top-6 in her three starts.
"Yes, but you can see by the scores, there are some low numbers out there, so typically you could be five, six shots behind and you may shoot a magical number and be right up there in contention, like I've experienced in the past, so I don't think you can take anyone out of it," Ko said about her confidence on Saturday. "It's a field with a lot of big names, so even though I'm currently leading and tied with Morgan, you just can't take anyone out of it within that five, four‑shot lead range. So I just have to focus on my game. You could get carried away thinking what is another player doing, but I'm just going to try and focus on what I'm going to do and give myself good opportunities."
The pair enters the final round with a two-stroke lead ahead of Alena Sharp, Jing Yan and Candie Kung at 12-under par. Yan took advantage of playing in the semi-cooler conditions in the morning compared with those she faced on Friday afternoon, picking up five birdies and an eagle, with one dropped shot on the back nine, to take the lead early in round two. Jang posted her best career finish earlier in June at the ShopRite LPGA Classic where she was fifth for the week after missing the cut in six of her previous ten starts.
“I think this week I'm hitting it a lot better and I'm making a lot of putts, so those two things I have been really on and off this year,” Yan told the media. “At ShopRite they were really good and at a lot of other events they really weren't, and it really showed when I didn't play very well through my long game. I struggled to have lots of birdie opportunities and get higher up on the leader board, so this week I felt like a little bit of change in my swing, really comfortable, striking the ball.”
Kung started the day solo second and maintained her position near the top of the leaderboard with a five-under par, 66 on day two. She didn’t let the pressure of being in contention get to her overnight, making time to go fishing on Friday to stay relaxed. Kung enters the final round three-strokes back of the lead in search of her fifth win on Tour.
Coming off her best finish of the year in a share of 13th at the Meijer LPGA Classic, Sharp carried that momentum to Arkansas, where she has climbed within two-strokes of the lead with a second round 65. The combination of some hard work along with some positive advice from Tony Robbins' coach Mimi Peak, Sharp's game is beginning to click.
“I think I’ve just been working really hard on my game, it’s starting to show through. I feel like Sahalee was the turning point for me, I missed two cuts in a row and then I went there and played really solid on a tough golf course and it gave me a lot of confidence and kept it going into Meijer, had my best finish as you said, and this week I’m right there again. Hopefully I can take from what I learned last week and apply it tomorrow," Sharp told LPGA.com. "I wasn’t really looking at leaderboards, just trying to make good swings and hit it close all day and had good chances at birdie and now I’m two-back. So anything can happen I’d love to have a chance to win with nine holes to go."
Three-back of the lead in a share of sixth are Haeji Kang, Giulia Molinaro, Sandra Gal and Alena Sharp at 11-under par. Kang was feeling more comfortable than usual during the round, having parted ways with her former caddie after missing the cut in her last three starts, the South Korean has her father on her bag this week. The work she’s also putting in with new instructor Holton Freeman is also beginning to take hold, helping Kang get around in just 25 putts on Friday.
“Actually, I have been struggling with my putting the last couple weeks, and I think I was thinking too much about technique out on the golf course, so like my goal was to be, just to keep it as simple as possible,” Kang said after her round. “I have been working on swing techniques, trying to make the ball roll a little bit more straighter, and it was going good and then I got too technical out on the tournament, which isn't great for, like being simple. Simple is great for out here, so I think ‑‑ so this week I just tried to be as simple as possible and I think that was the key for all past weeks, so I think that's what's been helping.”
Gal is off to her best start of 2016, opening with back-to-back sub-70 rounds for the first time this season. The German missed several weeks following the ANA Inspiration due to back pain but has tried to stay patient, knowing that her game would begin to come together.
“It's been a tough year for me, so I have been working on everything all year. And, you know, you just have to ‑‑ I think, you just have to have a positive attitude. You have to think okay, at some point it's going to click. You just have to be patient,” Gal told the media.
World No.2 Brooke Henderson missed her first cut as a professional and first of 2016 this week where she finished at Even par. Henderson posted rounds of 69 - 73 to miss the weekend in Arkansas. Her last missed cut came as a non-member at the 2015 Manulife LPGA Classic. The projected cut line is expected to fall at three-under par, sending home Michelle Wie at Even and defending champion Na Yeon Choi at four-over par.