Chasers Close the Gap as In Gee Chun’s Lead Shrinks Saturday
For anyone to have a chance at In Gee Chun's runaway second-round lead at Congressional, it felt like the two-time major champion had to assist the field.
In Gee Chun opened the door on the par-5 16th, posting a double-bogey en route to a third-round 3-over-par 75. That hole alone made it eight players inside of five strokes of Chun, with only three players within that margin before her double.
2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner Sei Young Kim, Hye-Jin Choi, and Lexi Thompson sit three back at five-under par of the two-time major champion.
Kim's quest to become the second multiple-time winner since the PGA took over the championship alongside Inbee Park battled through challenging heat Saturday. Kim usually avoids sports drinks due to their sugar content but guzzled two Gatorades from the strenuous heat.
“It wasn't easy to keep the focus on every single shot,” Kim said, “especially when I turned the back nine. I keep trying, keep trying, keep trying.”
Now, she'll chase down her Dallas neighbor with whom she shares tuna macaroni and cheese when they're both back home.
Rookie Hye-Jin Choi played a practice round with Chun earlier in the week. Growing up, she cheered on Lexi Thompson from her home in South Korea and balanced being a fan of hers today versus competing alongside the 11-time winner.
“There were leaderboards here and there,” Choi said, “so I couldn't help but look at it, the leaderboards, but instead of that I was more focusing on the group that I was playing with and the game within the group that I was playing in.”
It’s not Choi’s first time in contention in a major this season, as the 22-year-old finished in third place at the U.S. Women’s Open. A strong performance would vault her ahead of Atthaya Thitikul for the LPGA’s Rolex Rookie of the Year Race in her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship debut.
Lexi Thompson once again knocks on the door for her first win since 2019. Over her past 11 starts, she has three runner-ups and she's focusing on maintaining her process rather than potentially hoisting her second major championship trophy Sunday.
“I know I'm in a good state with my game,” Thompson said, “and just my mental state, so going out tomorrow enjoying the walk with my caddie and hopefully a lot of fans out there supporting us.
“Whatever score I shoot, I shoot.”
Hannah Green, who won at Hazeltine in 2019, sits alone four off the lead at 4-under par. She went out in two-under par on the opening side to get Saturday going with three birdies and a lone bogey. However, the momentum stalled on the back, handing two strokes back with a closing 38 to enter the final round in fifth place.
“I have no idea how In Gee will finish,” Green said, “but I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow.”
She'll need to replicate her effort at the 2019 Cambia Portland Classic to win her second KPMG Women's PGA Championship. Green trailed Yealimi Noh by three shots going into Sunday at Columbia Edgewater in Portland and posted a final round 67 to win by one. However, an aggressive approach is being made more difficult by the course drying out over the week.
“I found they've put a few tricky pins out there,” Green said, “You can't really be too aggressive with the pins that they've put. If you go for it and it doesn't work your way, you can easily make a bogey or a double.”
Should the top 5 of the leaderboard all struggle, a parade of talent lurks at 3-under par. Thitikul, Brooke Henderson, Jennifer Kupcho, and Jennifer Chang remain in striking distance. After all, Thitikul's round of 68, the low round of the day and one of two in the 60s on Saturday, cut seven shots into Chun's lead.
“Just give yourself a chance,” Thitkul said, “Just, like, keep on the position that's safe for you, and, yeah, just rolling the putt. If it's going to go in, it's going to be really good, but if not, it's just patience.”