Na Yeon Choi felt as if she had nothing to lose staring down her second shot on the par-5 18th hole during round two of the NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club.
The eight-time LPGA Tour winner played without a sense of fear throughout her round on Saturday, matching her career best with an eight-under-par 63 to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
Choi reached 13 under overall (129) after sinking a 15-metre eagle putt on the 525m final hole, a shot she set up with a fearless 3-wood approach to the elevated green.
“I got the 3-wood out first, then changed it to a pitching wedge and then back to a 3-wood because there is a small gap to the right side of the green,” Choi said. “… I mean, I couldn’t hit a 3-wood if today is Sunday, but today’s Saturday, and I feel good about my swing so I just hit it.”
Choi had reason to feel comfortable at Pinnacle, where she’d never shot above par in 23 career rounds, finishing in the top 10 for the past four years.
The South Korean will enter Sunday’s final round with a two-shot lead over Mi Jung Hur and Anna Nordqvist.
Australian Minjee Lee is in a four-way tie for eighth on eight-under 134 after impressive rounds of 68 and 66.
Katherine Kirk is the next best Australian at five-under 137, ahead of Karrie Webb (138).
In addition to Hur and Nordqvist at 11 under, several players enter the final round within striking distance including defending champion Stacy Lewis at nine under.
She was also four shots off the lead entering the final round last year when she sank a seven-foot birdie putt on the final hole to earn her 11th career victory.
Lewis hasn’t won since, but she sank a 25-foot birdie putt on 17 on Saturday, and finished with another birdie on the par-5 18th for a second-round 65 after an early double bogey.
“I just stayed patient and finally hit some good shots and rolled the rock in there at the end,” Lewis said. “Those two putts on 17 and 18 were huge going into tomorrow, but it also gave the fans something to cheer about, too.”
Choi’s eight-under round was one shot off the course record of 62, set in 2008 by Angela Park and Jane Park. Also, Choi’s two-round total of 13-under par was one shot off the 36-hole record set in 2012 by Veronica Felibert.
One South Korean who won’t be around for the final round is top-ranked Inbee Park, who missed her first cut in more than a year. Park shot a one-over 72 to finish one under overall, the same score as Michelle Wie, who also dropped out.
Australians Sarah Jane Smith (142) and Sarah Kemp (149) also missed the cut