Racing ahead of the raindrops – and barely beating them – a quintet of major championship winners sprinted to the top of the leaderboard in Saturday’s third round of the Evian Championship, setting up a Sunday that should be nothing short of super, albeit soggy.
Hyo Joo Kim, who won the Evian in 2014 when she opened with a major-record 61, made birdies on four of the last six holes for a 65 that put her at 15-under-par 198 after 54 holes, one stroke ahead of Sung Hyun Park, who is seeking a major for the third year in a row.
ANA Inspiration winner Jin Young Ko is four back at 202 along with seven-time major winner Inbee Park, who is trying to match Karrie Webb’s Super Slam by winning five different majors. Shanshan Feng, winner of the 2012 KPMG Women’s PGA, is at 203 along with Mi Hyang Lee who, like Caroline Hedwall at 204, is seeking her first major.
“It came up a lot faster than I thought, so in order to have a good putt I just wanted to finish as quick as possible,” Kim said about her birdie try on No. 18, which she missed in the rain. “With the onset of thunder, yeah, just came a lot quicker than I thought. Tried to make it as quick as possible.”
Kim, who made eight birdies on the day and needed her putter only 23 times, has good memories of Evian, having won here, and she knows where her focus needs to be in order to win.
“Looking at tomorrow, I'm not going to think about what other players are thinking about,” she said. “Just going to work on my own game. I definitely have good memories of this tournament because of my win. I'm going to keep that going into tomorrow and forget everything else.”
Play started a 7 a.m. in threesomes off two tees because of predicted storms and the strategy worked as the bad weather didn’t roll in until the final group was putting out on the final hole. Severe weather is expected again Sunday morning and the plan is to use threesomes and two tees with the first group going at 10 a.m.
“I don't think anything is going to change with the weather,” said Sung Hyun Park. “All players have experienced it. I have played in the rain a lot of times, so I will focus on my game. I'll have to discuss the strategies with my caddie for tomorrow. As long as I keep going like I did today, I think I'll have a good round.”
While Inbee Park’s Super Slam dream is very much alive, she does think that with the way Kim is playing it will be a high mountain to climb, requiring a very low score to erase her four-stoke deficit.
“I think it's just going to be a lot,” she said about what she needs to do on Sunday. “I mean, I play with Hyo Joo last two days and she's pretty solid. I don't think she's going to falter that much. I think it's going to be a low one [to catch Kim]. Has to be.”
Because of the fear of weather, the third round was played under lift, clean and place rules with the scores reflecting that. Ariya Jutanugarn got to eight-under-par 205 with a bogey-free 64, tied for eighth with Megan Khang, Jennifer Kupcho and Chella Choi. Moriya Jutanugarn shot 66 to get to 206 along with Carlota Ciganda, Mi Jung Hur and Sei Young Kim.
Going into the third round, Mi Hyang Lee had a one-stroke lead over Sung Hyun Park, Inbee Park and Hyo Joo Kim. But Lee couldn’t get anything going on Saturday as bad bounces and lipped-out putts led to only two birdies and an even-par 71 on a day when the Evian Resort Golf Club averaged 70.889.
Sung Hyun Park took the lead at 12 under par when she holed out a bunker shot for eagle on No. 9, moving one clear of Hyo Joo Kim and two ahead of Mi Hyang Lee, her two playing partners and that super shot triggered a wildly entertaining back nine in which either Park or Kim birdied the last six holes.
Kim joined Park at 12 under when she chipped in for birdie on No. 13 and took the lead with a 10-foot birdie putt on the next hole. Park got back into a tie with Kim by making birdie on the par-5 15th hole
A key moment came on No. 16 when Park missed a 4-foot birdie try and Kim rolled one in from about the same length to retake the lead by one stroke, building it to two strokes with a birdie on the next hole. Park got the margin back to a single shot with a birdie on the final hole.
That sets up a Sunday in which Feng, Lee and Inbee Park will be in the penultimate group with Kim, Ko and Sung Hyun Park in the final threesome.
It’s been a week of parties as the Evian Championship celebrated its 25th birthday, but the biggest party of all will take place on the golf course in the final round. The stage is set.