Two best buddies remain at the top of the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore for the third day in a row. However, instead of childhood friends and 22-year-old overnight leaders Paula Creamer and Jane Park, it’s the more mature Angela Stanford and Katherine Hull, two of the hottest players on the planet in recent months.
Both Hull and Stanford, the world number six, fired six-under-par 66s in the third round at the Tanah Merah Country Club. Hull leads on 11-under-par for the tournament, despite having to wait out over two hours of thunderstorms to finish her round, while Stanford is second on nine under.
The 31-year-old Texan was looking forward to a pairing with her Australian friend. Both players, who share a fiercely competitive streak, are acutely aware that they’ve played twice in the final group in the final round before, at the 2008 Bell Micro Classic in September and the 2008 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November, and that Stanford has won each tournament.
“She’s probably going to think I did this on purpose because I seem to win when I’m with her in the last group. She’s probably going to be mad at me!” joked Stanford who has won three of her last eight LPGA tournaments, including the season-opening SBS Open, and hasn’t finished outside the top six during that time.
“She is two up on me at this point, but I like the fact that I have a two shot lead and I’m confident in the way I’m playing so… game on!” said Hull, who like Stanford, has soared up the world rankings.
While Stanford has soared from 31st in the world to join the world’s elite, the 27-year-old Queenslander has gone from being ranked 89th the week she won last August’s CN Canadian Open to stand 20th in the world rankings at the start of this week. She finished last year with seven top-10 finishes and started this season by winning the ANZ Masters in her own back yard and finishing second in two other co-sanctioned European and Australian tour events.
“Any golfer will tell you when you get in these kinds of zones you just ride it as long as you can,” Stanford explained.
“I think it’s the same for her (Hull). When you gain that confidence it’s like a snowball. It just keeps going and going. I think you get addicted to winning and playing well. I think we’re both there right now. She’s a great person with a great heart and she always has a big smile on her face. She’s easy to be around and just a great person.”
South Korea’s Sun Young Yoo holds third place after a four-under-par 68 took her to eight under for three rounds, while compatriot Mi Hyun Kim is a shot further back in fourth. The overnight leaders couldn’t quite keep pace with Stanford and Hull. Creamer, who has struggled with a stomach virus all week, shot a 72 and is fifth on six under, while Jane Park’s one over par round dropped her back into the pack of five players tied for sixth place on five under par.
Lurking ominously among them are Jiyai Shin and Lorena Ochoa; two names who, if they don’t actually strike fear into the hearts of the other players, certainly command their respect.
Shin, the British Open champion and, according to some calculations, the biggest money earner in women’s golf worldwide in 2008, equaled Stanford’s round of 66 but could easily have shot a round in the fifties. The 20-year-old, who is known in her homeland as “The Final Round Queen” shot a bogey-free round, didn’t miss a single fairway and missed only one green by only two feet and was only an inch away from chipping in from birdie on that one.
“I had very many good chances. I felt very comfortable with my putting and my iron shots. I played really good. It was easy to play,” Shin said.
Ochoa was also bogey-free with a 69, and, although she stands five shots behind Hull and four adrift of Stanford the latter declared the Mexican very much in the hunt.
“It’s like asking if Tiger Woods can come back from however many back,” Stanford said.
“There’s a reason why she’s the number one player in the world. If she gets it rolling she has just as good a chance as anybody.”
Russy Gulyanamitta (Thailand) 220 (+4) 72, 72, 76
Q: So you finished four over par today?
A: Yeah, four over. I bogeyed the last two (holes). I didn’t get good putting today, it was mostly just putting. I had a couple of bad drives but you know I was getting so close and couldn’t make the putts. It’s really tough when you don’t make any good putts and I really didn’t make any good putts.
Q: One of those days when the birdie putts wouldn’t drop and the par putts wouldn’t drop?
A: I had so many chances to make birdie, but there’s still one more day. You never know.
Q: Compare it to your other rounds, ignoring the scores, did you really play that much worse?
A: I played really bad today but it wasn’t that bad. If I can improve my driver a little bit – I still had some pulled shots – otherwise my chips are very good, my approaches are very good. Hopefully if I can get the driver going better and putt better.
Q: It’s easy to forget this is a field who have all won their way into the tournament and you are an HSBC invite (as the top ranked ASEAN player)… no disrespect but they’re way above you in the rankings and you’re actually having a good tournament.
A: Yeah. I do realize that. It’s only my second year on tour and they’ve all won tournaments so it’s a very tough field… and a tough golf course. But, when you have a good attitude and enjoy yourself. I’m enjoying it even though I’m one of the few girls who has never won and has a lower status. This is a great chance to improve my game and to see how aggressive they are to the pin and stuff like that. If I can learn more and be more confident in myself it’s OK, I can do it!
Q: Did you set yourself any targets for this tournament?
A: My goal is always to shoot under par. I tried to keep it under par today but unfortunately I couldn’t do it. If I can reach a target like that it will bring me into the top 20 or top 30 anyway. Hopefully I can make more birdies and make less mistakes tomorrow.
Q: You know already you can make enough birdies to get back under par, don’t you?
A: I’ve had so many birdies, it’s just three or four holes that have really got me; number 10 and 17. 17 is the one. I’ve made bogey par bogey. Hopefully tomorrow I can make birdie back. I can’t make birdie if I don’t get on that green, so I just need to get on that green! (Laughs)
Pornanong Phatlum (Thailand) 221 (+5) 75, 73, 73
Q: How did today go?
A: My approach play was OK but it was my chipping and putting which really saved my game today. For some reason my shots of the tee were not good.
Q: Why do you think your long game wasn’t so good?
A: It’s not like it was really bad but it still wasn’t great. I was always aiming for the middle of the fairway but it just wasn’t 100%. Maybe sometimes I would hit it left and then the next time it would be down the right side. It made it much harder for me to go out and make more birdies.
Q: What made it more difficult out there today?
A: The greens weren’t too different today but the pin positions made life really hard. You really had to concentrate and think twice before playing an approach shot. I think it could make quite a big difference to the scores today.
Q: Are you looking forward to tomorrow?
A: I’ll try and go out there and play like the other three days. I’ve been slightly over par in every round so far so it would be great to go out there and make some birdies!
Q: Are you happy with your performance so far?
A: Yeah. I think I’ve played quite well so I’m happy with the last three days. Tomorrow I’m just looking for a lower score!
Feng Shanshan (China) 219 (+3) 70, 71, 78.
Q: How was it out there today?
A: I just wasn’t putting very well. I missed a lot of short putts. On the first hole I had a double bogey! I missed a really easy putt and so three-putted. So I started to putt very badly and kept making bogey. That was the front nine. The back nine started to get a little better but I didn’t play well today.
Q: So what are you going to try and do tomorrow?
A: Tomorrow, I just want to try my best and try not to think about today.