Ariya Jutanugarn stormed up the leaderboard, shooting a five-under 67 to vault into a four-stroke lead after the third round Saturday at the US Women’s Open.
The 22-year-old Thailand native charged into the final turn of the major championship event, putting some distance between herself and the rest of the field at the soggy Shoal Creek, Alabama course.
“I told myself to just go out and have fun and be really committed, and I did,” Ariya said.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“My putting has been working pretty good. I didn’t hit my tee shots very well, but it was a fun day.”
Former world number one Ariya roared past second round leader Sarah Jane Smith to finish with a 12-under 204 total as the tournament got back on schedule after heavy rains and lightning earlier this week resulted in a number of delays.
Ariya was among 78 players who got up at the break of dawn to return to the course early Saturday to complete their rain-hit second rounds.
Australia’s Smith, who shot a third round 74, is alone in second at eight-under 208. Smith, who is seeking her first LPGA career title, had the luxury of sleeping in Saturday morning because she finished her second round on Friday.
“I felt really good and kept my nerves under control, but I think the nerves showed up in my putting,” Smith said.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“When you are leaving them short, that’s because of nerves.
“I have nothing to lose. Hopefully, tomorrow I can go out with a little bit more confidence.”
South Korea’s Kim Hyo-joo was alone in third after shooting a four-under 68 while another shot behind was Kim Ji-hyun (70) at five-under 211.
Three players were tied for fifth at four-under 212, comprising world number one Park In-bee, Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom and Carlota Ciganda of Spain.
Ariya has eight LPGA victories in the past two years, including a major at the 2016 Women’s British Open.
Ariya began the round three shots behind Smith and needed just three holes to close the gap to one as she gathered two early birdies.
She then posted seven straight pars, taking over the lead when Smith stumbled to back-to-back birdies on Nos. eight and nine holes.
Ariya kicked it into high gear on the back nine by draining four birdies in five holes beginning at the par-five 11th hole.
“I think I’m going to sleep well tonight,” Ariya said.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“I didn’t sleep much last night and I’m really tired. I just want to go out and be proud of myself every day.
“I’m pretty sure tomorrow is going to be a pretty good day. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I know what I’m going to take action on.”
Smith, who is ranked 97th in the world, has put on an impressive performance this week after she switched back to a old set of clubs.
Heading into this event she missed the cut in five consecutive events and has failed to make the cut in five of her six previous US Open appearances.
Defending champion Park Sung-hyun missed the halfway cut with rounds of 76-77, and world number two Feng Shanshan of China also exited early after rounds of 78-74.
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