The 2014 Ricoh Women’s British Open look set for a dramatic last day shoot out after several of the world’s leading players moved into contention during the third round at Royal Birkdale.
Four time Major winner, Inbee Park, carded a third round 68 to move into a one shot lead on four under par 212 but lurking just behind are multiple Japanese Tour winner Sun-Ju Ahn, the dangerous double Major winner Suzann Pettersen, from Norway, and Shanshan Feng, who became the first Chinese player to win a Major title when she captured the 2012 Wegman’s LPGA Classic.
The third round is traditionally known as moving day in golf circles but as second round leaders, Mo Martin and Beatriz Recari, slipped off the leaderboard, Paraguay’s Julieta Granada and America’s Amelia Lewis carded rounds of 72 and 71 to remain in contention on two under par 214.
Meanwhile, the biggest move of the day came from English teenager, Charley Hull, who carded a blistering six under par 66 to move into a share of seventh place alongside defending champion Stacy Lewis, 2011 US Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu and four other players.
Eleven months ago, Park arrived at St Andrews seeking a fourth successive Major title having won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the Wegmans LPGA Championship and the US Women’s Open earlier in the year. The Korean saw that dream blown away by the vagaries of the Scottish weather but now has another great chance to complete a personal Grand Slam after a storming performance in much more benign conditions.
Park began her round with birdies on both the opening holes and she made further advances on the 4th and 6th before dropping a shot on the 8th to go out in three under par 32. She holed out from 30-feet for her second birdie two of the round on the 149-yard par-3 12th, dropped a shot with a three-putt on the 14th but hit the top of the leaderboard with a birdie four on the penultimate hole.
“It was a great start because the opening four holes are the toughest on the course,” said the Korean. “Today has given me a lot of confidence going in to tomorrow. My ball striking was very good out there today and my putting was a little better although I still left a few out there.
“I’m looking forward to the pressure of being in contention tomorrow.”
Ahn had initially appeared to overtake Park with a 69 for a five under par 211 but was then handed a two-shot penalty for inadvertently building a stance in a greenside bunker on the 18th hole. That was enough to drop her back into a tie for second place alongside Pettersen and Feng.
LGU Championship Director, Susan Simpson, issued a statement explaining the situation: “Rule 13-3 states that a player is entitled to place her feet firmly in taking her stance, but she must not build a stance. In the bunker she moved the sand with her feet and breached this rule. You may refer to decision 13- 3/3.”
The Korean accepted the penalty graciously and seemed determined to rectify the damage during the closing round.
“It’s disappointing but it’s my mistake,” she said. “I still have a day to go and I have to try to stay focused and do my best tomorrow.
“I didn’t know about the rule, but all I was trying to do was to make a stance. I’m surprised by it but, if that’s the rule, I just have to abide by it and just re-focus.
“I’ll have to sleep on it and find out tomorrow whether it’s going to motivate me or not,” she added. “All I can do is my best.”
Earlier in the day 18 year-old Hull shot a best-of-the week 66 that catapulted her into the top-10 and gave her realistic chance to win her first Major title.
The 18 year-old Ladies European Tour No. 1 started her charge with birdies on both the 373 yard par-4 3rd and the 175-yard par-3 4th. They were to be the first of nine birdies she was to accumulate as she came up just one shot short of the Birkdale ladies course record set by America’s Morgan Pressel in this Championship four years ago.
Hull’s route 66 to the top of the leaderboard included no less than four birdie twos and was all the more impressive because it closed with a birdie four on a hole on which she had hit her tee shot out-of-bounds in each of the first two rounds.
“Last night I told my Dad that I wasn’t out of this Championship,” she said. “I said to Dad that I could still win it if I have a good day tomorrow.
“If the wind gets up tomorrow level par could win this Championship so it’s a good place to be.
“I felt a bit of pressure at the start of this week knowing that people were expecting a lot of me so I feel like I have stepped up there today and really proved myself,” Hull added. “The plan is to do the same tomorrow. I’m just going to go out there and do my own thing.”
America’s Emma Talley will start the final round as favourite to win the race to collect the Smyth Salver awarded to the leading amateur in the field.
The reigning US Women’s Amateur champion began the third round tied with England’s Georgia Hall on 145 but heads into the final 18 holes with a two shot lead after posting a four over par 76 for a five over par aggregate of 221.
The recovery of the day came from Italy’s Giulia Sergas who opened with a quintuple bogey nine but then carded two eagles in her final four holes to card a battling level par 72. The former Ladies European Tour Rookie of the Year starts the final round on the same mark as Talley.