Ariya Jutanugarn in hot pursuit of KPMG Women's PGA leader Hannah Green
CHASKA, Minn. -- Australia's Hannah Green managed to hold on to her lead after three rounds at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, but it was Ariya Jutanugarn who made a charge on Saturday to trim Green's lead to a single stroke heading into Sunday.
Jutanugarn roared through her front nine holes bogey-free with four birdies and appeared to be picking up steam until she bogeyed No. 13.
Then the big-hitting Thai player went birdie-bogey-birdie on holes 15 through 17, rolling in a 12-foot birdie on the 17th to trail by 2 strokes with one hole to play. She made a two-putt par on the final hole to card a 4-under 68 to remain in second place at 8-under 208.
"I'm really happy about the way I played," said Jutanugarn, who has 10 LPGA wins, including two major championships. "I feel so free."
Although winless on the LPGA Tour and never having led an LPGA tournament previously, Green continued to play with unflappable poise. The protégé of LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who came to the United States only four years ago to follow and cheer for her Australian compatriot, performed as though leading a tournament was familiar territory.
She posted a round of 2-under 70 to hang on to her wire-to-wire dream at 9-under 207 after 54 holes, but Saturday's round wasn't without some wobbliness coming down the stretch.
Green had a chance to pad her 2-shot lead on the signature 16th hole at Hazeltine National Golf Club when she pitched to around four feet, but she missed her birdie attempt. The putt missed left and rolled 3½ feet past the hole. Green saved par with her comeback putt.
On the same hole, Jutanugarn's errant tee shot sailed into the deep right rough, forcing her to take a drop. She pitched to 20 feet, missed her par putt and carded a bogey.
Green's birdie effort on the par-3 17th hole stopped short of the cup and she tapped in for par while Jutanugarn made her birdie to draw within 2 shots.
"I was kind of struggling with my pace a little bit coming down the stretch and leaving some putts short in the heart [of the cup]," said Green, who hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation during Saturday's round.
The third round was largely a head-to-head battle between Green and Jutanugarn. Jutanugarn would kill it off the tee, and Green said it was hard not to try to chase her.
"I think the most daunting thing is how far she hits it," said Green, who won three times on the Symetra Tour in 2017.
And Jutanugarn said she knew better than to try to put pressure on Green, who played steady golf even when her putter grew balky late in the round.
"You can't put pressure on her because she makes every putt," Jutanugarn said, laughing. "It was like match play and it was so much fun."
Green's only real hiccup in the third round came on the final hole when she drove her tee shot into the thick right rough, leaving 176 yards to the hole for her second shot.
The Aussie managed to hit the front of the green on her approach for a long uphill first putt, which she left 10 feet short. While Jutanugarn tapped in for par, Green's three-putt bogey narrowed her cushion to only 1 stroke.
"It's pretty disappointing to end with a three-putt," Green said. "That's my first one all week."
No other players got within 3 strokes of the front-runners, California's Lizette Salas posted a bogey-free 4-under 68, while Nelly Korda of Florida carded a 69 to join Salas in a tie for third at 5 under.
Sei Young Kim of Korea started the day at 2 over and finished at 4 under, thanks to timely birdies. She chipped in for birdie on No. 13 and may have had the day's best shot when she holed out from the 14th fairway from 101 yards for an eagle-2.
Kim carded the day's low round of 5-under 67 to move into a tie for fifth with defending champion Sung Hyun Park (71) at 4-under 212.
"After the front nine, I felt I really needed to birdie because Inbee [Park], playing in front of me, made a lot of birdies," said Kim, who has eight LPGA Tour wins. "I could hear that, so I was just trying to stay a little more aggressive."
Inbee Park got off to a fast start with a hot putter on Saturday with four birdies on her front nine, but the Hall of Famer could do no better than par each of her last nine holes to produce a bogey-free round of 68 to join four other players, including former KPMG champion Danielle Kang (68), at 3-under 213.
"Just another day like today would be nice tomorrow," said Inbee Park, who earned her first win as an LPGA player in Minnesota at the 2008 U.S. Women's Open. "Hopefully I can make some more putts."
Two-time LPGA Tour winner Jimin Kang was the only current teaching professional in the field to make the cut in this week's championship. Kang is at 7-over 223.
With inclement weather in the forecast for Sunday, the final round of the tournament will be moved up and played off both the first and 10th tees, starting just after 10 a.m. ET.
Lisa D. Mickey has covered golf for Golf World, Golf For Women, The New York Times, the U.S. Golf Association, LPGA.com, Virginia Golfer Magazine and for various other publications and websites. She is based in Florida.