It looks like a forgone conclusion. But nothing in golf is. That’s why we play.
Jeongeun Lee6 enters the final round of the Amundi Evian Championship with a five-shot lead over 19-year-old American Yealimi Noh, who, despite massive promise and several close calls, has yet to win as a professional. The last member of the final threesome on Sunday is Lydia Ko, who three-putted the final green for par and a 12-under total, six behind the leader.
With a driver in the third round that seemed to have fairway-seeking guidance and went 22 yards longer than her year-long average, Six added a 3-under par 68 to her major-championship 36-hole scoring record. But for a tugged short iron at the 17th that trundled down the mountainside and behind some spruces, the lead might have been larger. But when she made a mistake, as she did three times on Saturday with bogeys at 3, 10 and 17, Six bounced back almost immediately and never looked out of sorts. She birdied the par-3 fifth after the bogey at 3. Then, after the bogey at 10, she hit a perfect gap wedge from 89 yards at 11 that took one hop forward, spun back and went in for an eagle. And after the pulled approach at 17, where she took her medicine, pitched well away from the hole and two-putted for bogey, Six hit the drive of the day on 18, leaving her a mid-iron into the par-5. Even then, she played conservatively to the back fringe away from the tucked pin. From there she calmly got up and down for birdie and a commanding lead.
Everything seems in control, which is, historically, one of the most dangerous places to be.
In 1996, Greg Norman held a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo going into the final round of the Masters. That Saturday night, the Association of Golf Writers had their annual dinner in the Augusta National clubhouse. As they adjourned, famous British writer Peter Dobereiner met Norman coming out the locker room, put his arm around him and said, ‘Don’t worry Greg ole boy. Not ever you could screw this one up.”
Faldo won by five.
And since we’re in France, anybody remember Jean van de Velde? The Frenchman held a three-shot lead on the final tee of the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie Links (where the AIG Women’s Open will be contested later this summer). For those who remember, the 20 minutes that followed were the most bewildering in major championship history. An errant tee shot, an approach that ricocheted off the grandstands; a trash from the knee-high rough followed by a ball in the burn with the tide coming on while van de Velde took off his socks, rolled up his britches and waded into water as rain began to pepper the landscape. One British golf writer, watching the folly unfold from the comfort of media dining, a cup of tea perched atop his ample midsection, said, “There is a reason the French have not won a war this century.” It was as good an explanation as any.
Paul Laurie won The Open in a playoff.
Sometimes things happen. Two months ago, Lexi Thompson held a five-shot lead going into the final nine of the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club. Thompson didn’t play bad that last nine. But Olympic remains undefeated in exaggerating mild misses.
Yuka Saso beat Nasa Hataoka in a playoff.
There are positive examples though. In 1997, after playing the third round of the Masters with Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomery marched into the media center and announced that “Tiger Woods is going to win this golf tournament. It’s over.”
Indeed, it was. Woods shot 69 on Sunday and won by 12, a Masters record. Three years later, he did one better. After hitting one tee shot in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday morning (as he finished the fog-delayed second round) of the 2000 U.S. Open, Tiger shot 71-67 at Pebble Beach on the weekend and won the U.S. Open by a record 15 shots, a display that led to one of the greatest lines of commentary in history. After Tiger muscled a ball out of the rough and over a tree with a 7-iron onto the green at the sixth hole, Roger Maltbie said, “It’s just not a fair fight.”
So, is Six, who already has a major championship, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, on her resume, today’s Tiger Woods? Jean van de Velde? Or are any such comparisons grossly unfair?
You know the answer. It’s golf. Anything can happen.
Jeongeun Lee6 will give it everything she has on Sunday. This is, after all, a woman who learned English on her own in two years to the point where she can carry on a conversation without missing a beat and even be interviewed on television in a second language. She is also someone who has already experienced hardship, embraced fear and overcome both.
“I'm going to play the same (as) today,” she said when asked her mindset going into the final round. “I don't know tomorrow's weather. Maybe it's supposed to be not nice, so (I’m) just (going to focus on) my backswing and rhythm, just focus on process, not results.”
She said that in flawless English, which speaks to her discipline and determination. That’s no guarantee. But it’s a good sign going into the final round with a 5-shot lead.