Grace Kim is learning every day about her mettle as a rookie pro and quickly burying the hurt of her late Saturday wobbles will be another test at the Fortinet WPGA Championship.
The rookie pro from Sydney’s Avondale Golf Club had played so serenely through the opening 14 holes of the third round that no one saw the turbulence ahead.
She’d stroked in three birdies at Royal Queensland and earned the plaudits of playing partner Andrew Dodt for “hardly missing a shot.”
In a blink, the 21-year-old dropped three shots in two holes and a slump in her shoulders made it the first crisis of her biggest tournament as a pro.
A par-par finish still meant signing for an even-par round. Kim (69-68-71) will start Sunday’s final round beside LPGA regular Sarah Jane Smith (71-68-69) on five-under as the pair try to apply the pressure on two-stroke leader Su Oh.
“I obviously didn’t end it the way I wanted but hopefully I’ll have a lot more putts drop in on Sunday. To be able to chase someone is pretty exciting for tomorrow,” Kim said.
Kim caught a huge lucky break on the short par four 12th when she miscued her bump-and-run approach which had the steam to scuttle off the green. It ricocheted off Dodt’s ball, came to a favourable stop and she holed for a birdie.
Kim came unstuck on the par five 15th when her drive found a fairway bunker and she caught the lip and stayed in with her second shot. By the time she’d pulled her approach left and come up short with a chip, she was signing for an ugly seven. Another poor chip cost her bogey on the next before she stabilised a little.
Kim saw beyond the hiccups to the big picture of competing at the top end of a big event with $180,000 for the winner on Sunday.
“It’s great. I’m probably the only one who doesn’t really have a full US card in the top half of this field but it’s really comforting to know that I’m able to compete against them,” Kim said.
“I’m loving where I am right now.”
Smith made the big early move on Saturday. The 37-year-old Queenslander gave no hint of it with a bogey on her opening hole before back-to-back birdies.
She was four-under for three holes when she played a beautiful 50-degree wedge into the par four fifth from 88m. The ball kept on tracking all the way into the hole for an eagle, a huge smile and a jump to six-under.
When she is on that sort of roll of no-fuss swings, putts dropping and quick play you do feel the groove she is in.
When she had a two-putt birdie on the part five seventh to reach seven-under, you felt the momentum she was riding.
A hiccup for bogey on the 13th and then a costly double bogey on the 16th when she missed a short putt dropped her back.
Curling in a lovely 2.5m putt on the final hole for her fifth birdie was just the tonic.
“It was all over the place. I felt I played really solid and smart in places and then made some really silly mistakes,” Smith said.
Smith is just two shots behind Oh and is a realistic chance at winning her first pro event in 14 years.
“I definitely need a low one on Sunday,” Smith said.
She’ll switch her mindset to attack more after playing with Brad Kennedy for two rounds.
“I had a good talk to Brad. Something I need to do is be a bit more aggressive on the course. I’ve played really well on really tough golf courses in the past,” she said.
“I can make a lot of birdies…Sunday is a good chance to practice that.”
Young Aussies Breanna Gill (68) and Julienne Soo (68), into fourth, both jumped up the field with top third round scores.