It’s never simple, never easy, and more often than not, it’s a grind to the finish line on the LPGA Tour.
When the dust settled on Saturday at the LPGA Drive On Championship – Reynold Lake Oconee, it was Ally McDonald who came out with the lead after a third-round 69 at -13. Playing alongside 2020 Tour rookie Bianca Pagdanganan and five-time Tour winner Danielle Kang, McDonald traded the lead with both players after bogeying her opening hole. After birdies at Nos. 5 and 8, she regained the lead with another birdie at No. 9 and would keep it the rest of the round.
“Missed it a little right of the pin,” said McDonald of her approach on No. 9. “But that's exactly why I have the strategy that I do, because I'm not going to hit it exactly where I want to every single time. I was looking a little left and a little past the pin and I hit it a little short and a little right, and just so happened it was four feet right of the hole; was able to roll that in.”
Despite a bogey on No. 17, two birdies on the card were enough for the 54-hole lead, which McDonald holds for the first time in her career. “I played some really solid golf after I kind of settled in. Made a few bad swings towards the end of the round, but I'm not going to discredit how I really did settle in and played solid golf for most of my holes,” said McDonald, who turns 28 tomorrow. “So I'm excited with the position I'm in. Mentally I think I handled myself really well. Ready to take on tomorrow.”
Pagdanganan, in just her sixth event of the season, is one back of McDonald at -12 after a 69 kept her in contention for the second consecutive tournament. After birding No. 2 to gain the lead for the only time of the third round, the young Filippino answered two bogeys on Nos. 3 and 5 with two birdies on Nos. 7 and 9. After seven straight pars, Pagdanganan closed with birdies on the final two holes, the most “relieving” part of her round.
“I was just like telling my caddie, I was telling Brandon, it's fine if the putts aren't dropping, but I'm giving myself really, really good opportunities. Eventually they're going to have to drop. Probably take a little more time to read the green,” said Pagdanganan. “But after I made the putt on 17 I was judge I can oh, my goodness, like finally. Like literally a sigh of relief. Coming into 18 I was like, okay, just hit a good drive and give yourself another good chance to make a birdie. ”
For Kang, it was a roller-coaster of a day to get to solo third at -11. After a bogey on No. 2, Kang made three consecutive birdies on Nos. 4-6, and made a crucial par-save to keep in it at No. 9. Kang’s back-nine included a double-bogey on No. 16 after hitting out of bounds, but after a birdie on No. 18, Kang closed with a 70. She, Pagdanganan and leader McDonald will once again be the final grouping, and Kang plans on being more aggressive on the final day as she looks for her third win of the 2020 season.
“I'm very frustrated today, but there was a lot of up and downs. But I think I handled the curve balls pretty well. Good to finish on a birdie,” said Kang.
Following the top-three is Carlota Ciganda, who carded one early bogey on No. 3 and five birdies to sit in solo fourth at -10. Three-time Tour winner Katherine Kirk rounds out the top five at -9 overall after a third-round 70. Three players are in a tie for sixth at -8 – Mina Harigae, Brittany Altomare and Ariya Jutanugarn, with major champions Lydia Ko and Pernilla Lindberg along with Megan Khang and Angel Yin lurking close behind at -7 in a tie for ninth.
DESPITE REASONS TO FRET, MCDONALD COMPOSED HEADING INTO DRIVE ON FINAL FOUND
Though Mississippian Ally McDonald has been on the LPGA Tour for five years, Sunday would be her first Tour victory. For that reason alone, the newly-wedded golfer would have any right to be nervous. Instead, she’s choosing to trust—the process, her hard work, her fans’ support, and most importantly, her faith.
“I'm definitely in a more comfortable position knowing that what I have and me is enough. I don't have to push and be more than I am. It's just kind of going and trusting what I know I can do. Trying to tee it up with the best players in the world and try to play my best. That's it,” said McDonald of how she has managed to stay as composed as she has the last few days.
Having trust in one’s self is a huge advantage especially for athletes. Having a team who also thinks similarly and supports you is a blessing, and McDonald knows that.
“Well, several things. I've been around a lot of people in my life that have just fed me knowledge, whether it's golf or life. I've always believed that golf is not who I am; it's just what I do. From junior golf with my parents and grandparents to college golf with my coaches, swing coach, short game coach, now my husband, can kind of get in my ear and chill me out a little bit,” said McDonald, who has the support of her parents following her around the Great Waters course. “It's just been good having so many people feeding into me and where I am now.”