RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | How far back is too far back?
You get some steely-eyed looks when you ask that one, especially on Saturday evening at a major when the players you’re asking put up decent numbers in the third round of The Chevron Championship and saw themselves fall further behind.
That’s what happens when a player catches fire and shoots a career-low round on a course that getting crispy in the dry, windless afternoon. Jennifer Kupcho, who came into the third round a shot off the lead at 8-under par, took charge early with four consecutive birdies to start the day. Another birdie on the par-3 8th got Kupcho to 13-under par and fans started breaking out the record books.
She added four more on the back with one bogey for a ridiculous 64, which set a new 54-hold scoring record at The Chevron Championship of 16-under par and opened up the lead to a whopping six shots over defending champion Patty Tavatanakit. The 72-hole scoring record is 19-under par, held by Dottie Pepper and set in 1999, the year Tavatanakit was born.
The defending champion held the old 54-hole record of 14 under, sharing it with Pernilla Lindberg. Now Patty T., who was paired with Kupcho on Saturday, is alone in second, six shots back and chasing.
So what do you do when you’re in this kind of hole?
The 22-year-old cut her eyes at the questioner, a look that indicted she was ready to head back out at sundown and finish this one in the dark.
“It’s still golf,” Tavatanakit said after firing a 2-under 70 to reach 10-under par. “At the end of the day I feel like I'm out here on Tour, this is my third year, and my coach told me that you know how to play golf, so just go out there and play golf.”
The largest comeback margin in Chevron history is seven shots, done by Karrie Webb in 2006 when she holed a wedge from the fairway on 18 for eagle to get into a playoff with third-round leader Lorena Ochoa. Webb then birdied 18 again in extra holes to win.
There have been other great rounds fired on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills, as Tavatanakit knows. Last year, Lydia Ko shot a final-round 62 to almost catch the leader. Everyone who saw Ko that Sunday thought that if they had played nine more holes the outcome might have been different.
But Patty hung on, then. Now she’s the chaser.
“I like chasing,” Tavatanakit said. “Yeah, for sure, it’s a better feeling (chasing). You play without fear and I love doing that.”
Six shots are a lot, but Jessica Korda would have to equal the seven-shot comeback record to catch Kupcho. The 29-year-old put together the best round of her week, a six-birdie, one-bogey 67 to get to 9-under par. That moved her to third place.
So, how far back is too far back?
“We'll see,” Korda said, staring through the person who asked. “I don't know. I don't know what (the golf course is) going to play like tomorrow. We'll see, I guess.
“It's a major so you know the girls up front are going to be nervous. We're kind of chasing them down and they know that. You always just kind of got to think that you have a chance no matter what. That's the mentality you’ve got to go in there with.”
So, what have you learned from all your years of experience at this major?
Korda’s eyes blazed at that one as well. “That I'm never out of it,” she said. “I mean, I was 3-over through like 7 on the first day. I'm never out of it.”
As for the game plan for Sunday, she said, “Same as today. I’m going to stay aggressive and make birdies where I can and just see what happens. Just be aggressive. The greens are getting really, really crusty and so coming in with higher ball flight I think is definitely a bit of an advantage.
“But definitely staying aggressive. It's a major.”