Aussies Green and Kim share lead after a wild Saturday

Aussies Green and Kim share lead after a wild Saturday

By Jeff Babineau


Saturday at the JM Eagle LA Championship was a good day to be a chaser. Leader Grace Kim of Australia started the third round on top by four, seemingly in control after opening 64-66, but she would struggle in the third round, leaving the door open for others to contend. Some took advantage of the opportunity, setting up what should be a terrific shootout on Sunday at Wilshire Country Club.


Kim started at 12 under, but stumbled to 5-over 76 on Saturday. Kim bounced back from a rough start (3 over after four), but as hard as she fought, she failed to make a single birdie after making 12 of them (and an eagle) in her first two rounds.


To exhibit just how difficult a round it was for those playing in the day’s later groups, Kim walked off the 18th green a little bruised, but still held at least a piece of the lead. She and fellow Aussie Hannah Green, a friend and practice round partner, will head to Sunday sharing the lead at 7-under 206.

Three players lurk only a shot behind the co-leaders: Sweden’s Maya Stark, who shot 73 in the last group with Kim; Germany’s Esther Henseleit (71), who made a Saturday run with three late birdies; and hard-charging Jin Hee Im, a rookie from Korea who went out early and established a new tournament scoring mark at Wilshire, shooting 8-under 63. Her day was done before the leaders teed off.


Saturday morning, it was Kim’s tournament to win. Late Saturday afternoon, it suddenly was wide open, with lots of players in the mix.


One player with an edge in experience is Green. Though she made three bogeys in five holes en route to shooting 2-over 37 on the front nine, she knew that scoring opportunities would eventually come. At the par-5 13th, Green hit a brilliant second shot and knocked down the 15-footer for eagle to get within two shots of Kim (who was 8 under).


She added a birdie at the par-4 14th and stuffed a second shot close to birdie 16, taking the solo lead. After a short miss for par at 17, she made a key par putt at the last, converting a 15-footer after hitting her tee shot into a greenside bunker. All of that added up to a round of 1-under 70, and every bit of it was earned.


Green, 27, has great history at Wilshire, after all, winning a three-way playoff a year ago, and has exceptional results to show for her time there. Bottom line, she loves everything about the place. She has a host family with whom she has grown comfortable, and in her last three trips to play at Wilshire, her “worst” showing is third. Good vibes surround her in L.A.


“It's really nice I do have that experience and positive memories,” Green said late Saturday. “Hopefully, yeah, I don't get too ahead of myself and think about that too much. Just keep playing every hole and not really think about the end result.”


Kim did what she could to hold things together on Saturday, but she was a wild ride that would test every ounce of her. She led by four to start, but her lead was gone by the time she reached the fifth tee. Kim, 23, then settled into the round a little bit, and with a run of pars, soon had rebuilt the lead to three. But after two hot days with the putter, she could not get a birdie to fall, and others would heat up on the back nine to close the gap on her.


Kim, 23, is trying to become the third Australian to win at Wilshire. She had a chance to pull away on Saturday, but simply never had the game to do it. Despite all that she went through on Saturday, she still stood over a 10-footer at the par-3 18th with a chance to lead by herself into the final round. She missed the putt to the low side. It was one of those days, a frustrating one at that.  


Now she will need to reset for Sunday and embrace the chance to start anew as she tries to collect her second LPGA victory. Thinking of her start to the week (64-66) at JM Eagle can only boost her confidence.


“I think knowing I can go that low is always a good reminder that I can win the thing,” said Kim, who won the LOTTE Championship in her third start as an LPGA member in 2023. “But, again, it's kind of whatever happens, happens. I'm just trusting whatever outcome happens for me because you can't force anything ... that would just probably not turn out very good.”

April 27, 2024
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