ALABAMA – After waking up before daybreak to complete her second round at the U.S. Women’s Open, Thailand’s 22 year-old Ariya Jutanugarn said she would have little trouble sleeping on Saturday night as she heads into the final round with a four-stroke lead.
Ariya Jutanugarn took the lead halfway through the third round at the US Women’s Open on Saturday as second-round pacesetter Sarah Jane Smith faltered with consecutive bogeys at soggy Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Alabama.
She began the round three shots behind Smith and needed just three holes to close the gap to one as she gathered two early birdies.
That is where the margin remained for an hour as both ran off four successive pars, before Smith bogeyed the par-three eighth after a poor tee shot.
The long-shot Australian world number 97 then yanked her drive into the trees at the par-four ninth to drop another shot.
Ariya turned at nine under par, one clear of Smith and four in front of South Korean Kim Hyo-joo, who had played 11 holes.
Former world number one Ariya has eight LPGA victories in the past two years, including a major at the 2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Using her prodigious power, she regularly lashed her three-wood off the tee further than Smith could hit her driver.
Ariya was far from perfect but kept her card clean by saving par at the picturesque par-three fifth by sinking a six-foot putt.
Barely 100 spectators made the long trek out to the fifth hole, the furthest point from the clubhouse, on a hot and steamy day made tolerable only by a capricious breeze that rustled through the pines and deciduous trees framing the fairways.
Earlier on Saturday, the second round was finally completed following Friday’s long lightning delay.
Smith, who was among the lucky half of the field to finish on Friday, enjoyed a sleep-in while many of her rivals woke before dawn, including Ariya, who got up at 4am local time.
When all was said and done, Smith led with a 10-under 134 halfway total, three in front of Ariya and four clear of Australian Su Oh.
Park Sung-hyun is no longer defending champion after missing the cut.
The third round began within an hour of the completion of the second as officials scrambled to get the championship back on track.
Despite a glacial pace of play, the field was on track to complete 54 holes by sundown, provided no thunderstorms popped up.
Ariya Jutanugarn on the second hole during the third round of the US Women’s Open golf tournament at Shoal Creek on Saturday in Birmingham, United States
By Andrew Both – Reuters