Pot of golfing gold awaits IK Kim at Kingsbarns
Bidding to emulate compatriot Mi Hyang Lee’s seaside success in last week’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, the 29-year-old held that sizeable advantage after 12 holes before seeing England’s Georgia Hall half the deficit with a hat-trick of birdies from the 13th as the pair looked to be involved in a two-way battle for a first prize of just under £400,000. However, Hall’s bid to become the first player from south of the Border to land this title since Karen Stupples achieved the feat at Sunningdale in 2004 suffered a setback when she followed a bogey at the 16th by dropping two more shots after a four-putt at the next, leaving Kim in the driving seat as the California-based player bids to land her first major.
“It really is a privilege to play this golf course and I look forward to the challenge tomorrow,” said Kim after carding a flawless 66 for a 17-under-par total, a new record for the event after 54 holes, beating Ariya Jutanugarn’s mark on her way to the title at Woburn 12 months ago.
Attempting to keep the coveted crown in the family, Jutanugarn’s younger sister, Moriya, shares second spot with Hall (70) after she made a significant move up the leaderboard on the back of 67, with 2015 winner Inbee Park, who equalled the course record with a best-of-the-day 64, seven back along with American Amy McDonald (70) and her compatriot, 2013 champion Stacy Lewis, on nine-under.
They all look to have their work cut out, though, to catch Kim, who backed up opening efforts of 65 and 68 with another polished performance as she bids to chalk up her third victory in just over two months, having won the Shoprite LPGA Classic in June then the Marathon Classic last month. She then tied for ninth behind Lee in Ayrshire last Sunday and has now given herself a golden chance to join Se Ri Pak (2001), Jeong Jang (2005), Jiyai Shin (2008) and Park as winners of this event. “I’ve been too critical of myself in the past. I’m now letting go,” said Kim, a six-time LPGA winner who also has three LET titles to her name, the most recent being a five-stroke success in the European Masters last September. As the badge on her hat testifies, the leader is a big Beatles fan. “I love them,” she said, smiling. “I went to the museum in Liverpool when the British Open was played at Hoylake in 2012 and I feel I really achieved something in my life when I went to a Paul McCartney concert.”
Hall, a 21-year-old from Bournemouth, refused to be downbeat. “I played better than two-under,” said this season’s LET No.1 who has already secured her spot on the European team for the upcoming Solheim Cup in Des Moines, with Annika Sorenstam and her US counterpart, Juli Inkster, both finalising their line-ups straight after the final round in this event. “I played a lot of good golf out there and, though what happened at the 17th was disappointing, I still feel as though I have got a chance tomorrow.”
She attributed that four-putt to the undulating greens on this Kyle Phillips-designed course rather than a lapse of concentration. “I had a hard first putt and these greens are so steep,” observed Hall, who has chalked up 11 top tens in the last 18 months but is chasing her breakthrough win as a professional. “With my second putt from six feet, I had to aim it a couple of feet to the right then left myself with an awkward downhiller from two-and-a-half feet.”
Park and Lewis, the last two winners of this event in Scotland in 2015 and 2013 respectively, fed off each other in near-perfect morning conditions. Park matched Michelle Wie’s two-day course record with her flawless effort, five of her eight birdies coming in the opening nine holes, while Lewis had nine birdies in her 65. Their better-ball was 60, 12-under-par. “It was very scoreable and I definitely took advantage of that,” said Park, who was chasing a calendar Grand Slam coming into this tournament at St Andrews four years ago but finished outside the top 40 behind Lewis. Referring to her, she added: “We both played great golf today, which really drives each other. We had a very good vibe.”
Park, who started the day in a tie for 48th after making the cut with only one stroke to spare, came within half an inch of claiming that course record outright with a 30ft birdie attempt at the last, but had no complaints about that effort staying above ground due to the fact plenty of other putts had dropped earlier in the round. “The greens were much quicker today than the last two days,” said the seven-time major winner. “The last two days I really struggled with the putter and just couldn’t get it to the hole. I was able to hole some putts today, when I also got some confidence from yesterday’s ball-striking.”
That Lewis also enjoyed a good day on the greens was down to her mother. “I really putted poorly the first two days, but my mom told me I needed to take my putter straighter back. I hate to give her credit, but she was right and I might buy her dinner tonight.”
Lewis is enjoying being back in St Andrews for the first time since that 2013 title triumph. “My husband hadn’t really been here before, so we went to where I hit the [key] shot on 17. It was very cool and brought back a lot of good memories.” As has returning to the Dunvegan Hotel in the Auld Grey Toun. “We’ve got the whole place rented out again, so it’s been a lot of fun,” said Lewis, who was also on a winning Curtis Cup team in St Andrews in 2008.
Sally Watson, the sole Scot to make the cut on her final appearance as a professional before starting an MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, slipped 30 spots to joint-64th after a 75 left her on level-par for the tournament. There will be a tear in her eye today, no doubt, as she bids farewell to the sport at an event being played just 14 miles from her home in Elie.