CARLSBAD, CA – Mirim Lee must be feeling a sense of déjá vu.
Saturday, Mirim Lee carded a five-under par, 67 to take the outright lead at the Kia Classic at 13-under par. Two years ago, Lee also held the 54-hole lead in Carlsbad with Cristie Kerr in an identical position, three-strokes back and chasing Lee heading into Sunday. The last time Lee held the third round lead was in Carlsbad in 2015, but is hoping the outcome will be different this time around.
“Course was perfect. Greens little bumpy so greens little tough. It's okay because I hit great,” Lee told the media. “I just hit straight. Then just thinking hit straight and then I make more birdies.”
Aviara Golf Club is a track that can be beautifully distracting, but requires players’ attention on each and every shot. That challenge isn’t dissimilar to what players face at a major championship. Lee has excelled when putting her game to the toughest test. Last season, Lee posted an eight-under par, 64 to lead the U.S. Women’s Open and followed that up just weeks later with a 10-under par, 62 to lead the RICOH Women’s British Open. Lee is a two-time winner on Tour who captured both her titles in her rookie season in 2014.
Mi Jung Hur is solo second at 12-under par after a six-under par, 66. She drained a putt more than 65 feet for birdie at the last to pull within one of Lee. The two will be paired together in the final group on Sunday.
“I think that's the longest putt I've ever made in my life,” Hur told the media. ”Definitely feel very, very good right now because I finish with a birdie on the last. Was huge, long putt. I'm getting excited to playing tomorrow.”
Kerr led the first two days but quickly began to struggle on Saturday, making bogey at the third. Her rollercoaster day continued en route to a one-under par, 71 that left her three-back of the lead at 10-under par.
“Honestly didn't hit it that great today, I scrambled a lot,” Ker told the media. “That last pin was really difficult. It was kind of hard to judge the speed through the shadows, and I didn't do a very good job. 3-putted the last hole.”
Kerr added that her coach arrived Saturday and she planned to put in some work with him in hopes of capitalizing on more birdie opportunities on Sunday.
First round co-leader In Gee Chun clawed her way back up the leaderboard after a 73 on Friday. The world No. 3 got off to a slow start with a bogey at her third hole of the day, but she bounced back with six birdies to close with a five-under par, 67. Chun sits at 10-under par, three-back of Lee.
“Stay patient, because first back nine was not really good, so I miss some birdie opportunities. I try staying patient,” Chun said about her mindset on Saturday. “I made really good back nine.”
The two-time major champion is in the hunt for her first non-major victory on Tour.
Four-time Symetra Tour winner Jackie Stoelting jumped into a share of the lead after making the turn with back-to-back birdies. But as the TV cameras arrived, so did the nerves and her momentum came to halt. At the par four, 13th Stoelting’s approach to an elevated green came up short, caught the slope and rolled back into the fairway. She struggled to get up and down and made double bogey to fall three-strokes back of the lead.
“I did get a little nervous today,” Stoelting told the media. “It brought back a lot memories back to when I was on Big Break on Golf Channel. That really helped me settle down a little bit more, knowing that I've dealt with cameras before. It's definitely different out here. But I enjoy that feeling.”
The Big Break champ missed a short par save at the last and settled for a two-under par, 70 to sit five-strokes back of the lead at eight-under par. This week is Stoelting’s first made cut in four starts this season.
“I feel great. I mean, I had a few hiccups at the end, but this is what I've been working on, being in this position,” Stoelting said. “Going from several missed cuts to finally being here feels really great. I feel very positive about my game.”
Stoelting earned her card for 2017 with a third place finish on the Symetra Tour's Volvik Race for the Card money list. She previously held her card on the LPGA Tour in 2015 but lost it last season.