HOUSTON, TEXAS | It was one of the best outside-the-ropes moments of the week. Just a few minutes after signing her card for her second consecutive 72, which puts her -1 for the championship and tied for third going into the final round, Moriya Jutanugarn stepped up to a USGA microphone and answered a few questions from journalists.
Then a surprise reporter jumped in to ask a question.
“How far did your sister hit it past you?” Ariya Jutanugarn, who played with Moriya on Saturday at Champions Golf Club, asked to the laughter of everyone within earshot.
“Wow,” Moriya said, joining in the laughter. “I would say 30 to 40 yards today. But I definitely think I hit more greens and maybe made a few more putts.”
That small interaction offered a glimpse into the sibling love that those who follow the Jutanugarns see almost every week.
Saturday wasn’t the first time the sisters have played together but it is the first time they have gone out in the same group in the third round of a major championship.
“Last night we got a text from friends who said, ‘Please don't fight on the golf course,’” Moriya said. “We didn't fight but we do like kind of complaining to each other. We did that a little bit today. I mean, everyone had a tough day (on Saturday), but I still enjoyed it. I always enjoy playing with my sister.”
It was tough for everyone, cold and damp in the morning with a biting north wind, opposite from the first two rounds. Only two players broke par on Saturday with just one round in the 60s: Ji Yeong Kim2, who shot 67 to tie Moriya at 1 under for the week.
“I expected the greens to be softer. But the greens were not very soft,” Moriya said. “There were a lot of mud balls and a lot longer shots into the greens. Because everything is softer, you had to hit long irons into these greens. And a lot of pin positions you couldn’t really be aggressive. You just had to be patient and take 40- or 50-foot putts and try to make them. Getting up and down around this golf course is not easy, too.”
She has a cheerleader, though.
“She's been playing so well. Her game is really solid,” Ariya said of her sister. “Every time after I hit my tee shot, I looked back and she was like 30 (yards) behind but she hit it closer. And then when I hit it on the green, she made the putt and I missed the putt. So, it kind of made me feel like I have to work on a lot of things. I have to improve my game after I play with her.”
The sisters jockeyed back and forth between 2-, 3- and 4-under par throughout the round until Ariya made an ugly double bogey on the long par-4 11th hole after having only a 7-iron into the green. She fell back to even par and stayed there until the 18th hole when she made another bogey from the rough. Ariya shot 74 and enters the final round 1 over and in a tie for ninth.
Moriya got it to 4 under with a birdie at the par-5 13th but made a double bogey of her own from a plugged lie in a greenside bunker on 17.
Still, they clapped for each other, encouraged each other, ribbed each other and pushed each other to play their best in the toughest of major championship conditions.
“It's so much fun, especially since I was pretty stressed today,” Ariya said. “I didn't hit the ball that good. But also, I played with my sister and I'm rooting for her and I'm really happy about her game. She just made 6 on number 17, but before that her game was like amazing.”
They won’t be together on Sunday. Ariya goes out at 9:01 a.m. local time with defending champion Jeongeun Lee6 and Cristie Kerr, while Moriya is in the final threesome with Amy Olson and championship leader Hinako Shibuno.
But that separation won’t dampen the rooting.
“I've been waiting (for her to win a major),” Ariya said. “I keep telling her every time when we play a major. She won her first tournament already. And I’m really looking forward to seeing her win her major.”