Field Chasing Dominant I.K. Kim at Women's British Open
South Korea’s In-Kyung Kim will take a commanding six-shot lead into the final day of the Ricoh Women’s British Open following an impressively metronomic and controlled exhibition on Saturday, after a superb bogey-free round of 66 on a changeable afternoon of weather on the East Neuk of Fife at the stunning Kingsbarns Golf Links.
Two shots ahead on Friday evening, the 29-year-old was unflappable even when conditions turned sour on the spectacular layout, reeling off four birdies on the front-nine to extend that advantage, with her score eventually reaching an eye-catching 17-under par after two further gains on the beautiful 11th and par three 12th.
England’s Georgia Hall – sampling her first experience of the final pairing in a major – credibly hung with Kim throughout the round, making a brilliant eagle on the fourth before recording three successive birdies midway through the second half of the course to halve the Korean’s lead, but was left to rue a crushingly disappointing finish that included a four-putt on the 17th, dropping the 21-year-old from Bournemouth into a tie for second with Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn.
“It feels quite good. Really just nothing too exciting or too unexciting,” said the leader of her position.” I feel kind of calm I think, and I think that's why I'm playing quite well.”
She looked unflappable and relaxed, evidently drawing on recent confidence attained from two victories on the LPGA already this summer, making the two-time Ladies European Master the only player to pick up more than one victory on the circuit in 2017. That considerable depth on the tour has led to a degree of parity, but the popular Kim has been able to separate herself in Scotland.
Many will recall the world number 21’s agonising loss in the ANA Inspiration five years ago, when she missed what was seemingly a tap-in putt on the 18th for the win, only to shockingly miss and ultimately fall short in the subsequent playoff. It would be easy to draw up a narrative of this being an opportunity for major redemption this week, but the popular Korean wasn’t going to be drawn on righting the wrongs of that most cruel of defeats.
Jutanugarn – elder sister of defending champion Ariya – will be alongside Kim for tomorrow’s final round, in that respect the most direct threat to the leader. The 23-year-old posted a superb 67 to move into that coveted position, and is relishing the chance to potential follow in her sibling’s footsteps, and can draw upon success on a links in the past, having won the British Junior Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, finishing one shot ahead of a 14-year-old Jordan Spieth.
For Hall, there was understandable frustration at the finish, but the rising star and imminent Solheim Cup debutant for Europe was positive about her first sampling of major championship contention. “I wasn't nervous at all today,” she reflected. “Which I was a bit surprised at. I thought I would be, especially going out late. I hit it better than yesterday. I just made a few silly mistakes with putting, but I was happy to get an eagle and you never know. Something might happen tomorrow. I hope to get off to a good start.”
That will be a prerequisite for all the distant chasing pack on Sunday, but mistakes from Kim are also likely necessary to make any turnaround possible, and that hasn’t been evident in her game thus far. However, perhaps the most ominous name on the leaderboard is that of former champion Inbee Park, who matched Michelle Wie’s 64 on Thursday to surge through the field to within seven shots of the summit.
Unable to defend her title last year at Woburn due to injury, the seven-time major champion took advantage of beautiful morning conditions to record her lowest round in a grand slam event. There’s been an unusually consistent disparity between the weather during the early part of the day, which has generally been ideal, when compared with the heavy downpours of the afternoons. The sun was shining for Park, however, and she revelled in a fast pairing with Stacy Lewis, who went around in 65. It was a blistering display from the two of the game’s most formidable talents.
“It was a great pairing out there today,” the Korean reflected. “I love playing in twosomes and it's just much quicker and a nice rhythm for me.”
Lewis, the champion at nearby St. Andrews four years ago, was equally complimentary about the pairing. “She's probably the one person I've played the most with on tour, just as far as rounds played. Plays fast, which is nice. I think we ran that group in front of us off the golf course. It was just like a good pace for both of us. We both kept moving and didn't really have to wait.”
Staying about the famous Dunvegan Hotel yards from the legendary Old Course – just as she did in 2013 – the American is eight shots off the lead and requires something magical to happen if a triumph in the shadow of the Home of Golf is be a realistic possibility.
I.K. Kim has been imperious – without a bogey on the card in 35 holes – and will be an overwhelming favourite to pick up her maiden major title at Kingsbarns. A lover of classical music, she will hope for the perfect crescendo to what has been an immaculate symphony of golf thus far.
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