Rookie Rose Zhang took full advantage of Moving Day at the TOTO Japan Classic, carding a 7-under 65 that saw her make one bogey and eight birdies to sit five shots back of the lead in a tie for ninth. The 20-year-old started her day with two pars, then grabbed back-to-back birdies on holes 3 and 4 to move to 10-under overall. Zhang stumbled with a bogey on the par-4 5th hole, recovering quickly with birdies on the par-4 6th and par-4 7th holes to get to 11-under.
She parred No. 8 and birdied No. 9 to turn in 32 and then rattled off five consecutive pars from holes 10 to 14. Zhang finally broke through again with a birdie on the par-4 15th hole, now sitting at 13-under with three holes to play. After a par on 16, she then closed out her third round with a pair of back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18 to post a 65, tying her career-low round on the LPGA Tour, which she last shot last week in the first and third rounds of the Maybank Championship.
Zhang’s three-day total of 201 is her second-lowest 54-hole score on the LPGA Tour, just three shots back of the 198 she recorded through three rounds in Malaysia. It’s just the second time this season she has recorded three straight rounds in the 60s, and it’s the fourth time since Zhang became an LPGA Tour member after winning the Mizuho Americas Open that she has been within five of the lead entering the final round.
As a whole, Zhang was pleased with her effort at Taiheiyo Club’s Minori Course on Saturday and will be looking to do more of the same on Sunday as she works to erase the five-shot deficit that stands between her and co-leaders Nasa Hataoka and Shiho Kuwaki.
“I felt like I was able to make some more putts, put myself in a couple more positions, especially on the front nine, and then just trying and scramble out pars and get birdie opportunities,” said Zhang, who hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens on day three. “I don't think about (climbing the leaderboard) much. I feel like every day is a new day, and no matter what, you're trying to put out your game plan and execute that as best as possible.”
Zhang became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Mizuho Americas Open in June, and after finishing in the top 10 in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (T8), U.S. Women’s Open (T9) and Amundi Evian Championship (T9), the rookie cooled off during late summer and early fall. She had a six-start stretch from the AIG Women’s Open in August to the BMW Ladies Championship in October, where she didn’t finish any better than T26, and it looked like the rest of the year might be more of the same for the Stanford University standout.
But Zhang turned that all around last week at the inaugural Maybank Championship in Malaysia.
Carding rounds of 65-68-65 across the first three days, Zhang held just the second 54-hole lead of her LPGA Tour career, and while she relinquished it on Sunday with a 1-under 71, the resulting T3 finish was her fourth top-10 of the season, excluding her victory in New Jersey. Zhang had plenty of positives to take away from last week’s performance, saying that while she still has “lots to learn, lots to improve on,” she felt like it was “all up from here” with just the TOTO Japan Classic and CME Group Tour Championship left on her 2023 schedule.
Now sitting inside the top 10 with 18 holes to play, Zhang has an opportunity to capture another top-10 result, one that would be a good confidence boost heading into an off week before she tees it up in her first CME Group Tour Championship. But Zhang isn’t putting any extra pressure on herself on Sunday in Japan and will relish playing in front of the Japanese fans one final time before she sets her sights on Tiburón Golf Club.
“It's been really fun playing in front of the Japanese crowds,” said Zhang. “For me, I felt like (today) was very solid in general. It was just having a good time with Olly (Brett, her caddie) on the bag and being sure to commit to every shot that I'm hitting. Was able to roll a few putts in, so that was definitely a good momentum boost, and I'm really excited for tomorrow's round.”