Date: June 03, 2018
Author: Martin Blake

Gritty Smith clings to US Open hopes

Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith found herself caught in a hurricane called Ariya Jutanugarn at Shoal Creek in Alabama today, and her hopes of winning the US Women’s Open drifted a little.

But 33-year-old Smith remains in with a chance of winning her first major, albeit that she needs a withering final round tomorrow and most likely, a fade-out from the Thai superstar.

Starting the third round with a three-shot lead, Smith struggled to a two-over par 74 today, feeling the heat of leading for so long, and not making a single birdie after brilliant 67s on the opening two days.

But ultimately Jutanugarn, the world No. 5, outplayed everyone with a third-round 67, and she leads second-placed Smith by four shots at 12-under par.

The Thai national, winner of nine tournaments and a major (the 2016 Women’s British Open) already, had to rise at 4am to get to the course and complete her third round after weather delays on Friday, immediately picking up a shot on Smith, who had slept with a four-shot lead.

Jutanugarn caught Smith at nine-under par at the eighth hole and then at the ninth, she seized the outright lead when the Australian hit a poor tee shot and made a second, consecutive bogey. Later, three consecutive birdies took her to a five-shot lead before a three-putt at the par-three 16th reduced the lead to four.

Smith had a great chance to pull back within three at the final hole, but her birdie putt from four metres burned the hole. It was one of those days when nothing happened for the Aussie, but she hung tough to stay in contention.

The 14-year professional from the Sunshine Coast via Geelong has never won an LPGA Tour event in 222 starts, let alone a major, so she is in unfamiliar territory. But she handled herself well today, refusing to yield when Jutanugarn’s surge left her behind.

“Well, I have nothing to lose tomorrow,’’ she said. “I'm happy with the way I handled my nerves today. Hopefully I can go into tomorrow with that little bit more confidence, not knowing this morning how I was going to handle it. As much as you try to enjoy it, when you are that nervous it's not enjoyable, but today it was. That's something less to think about.

“(I want to) come out here tomorrow and know that I will feel better. I’ve just got to give myself a chance. I was just saying I know what it feels like to lose. I was talking to my coach this morning. He was like ‘you know what that feels like and it's not that bad’. I've handled it fine. So just see what happens tomorrow and get the ball to the hole.’’

The other Australian hope, Victoria’s Su Oh, played in the final group but dipped to be outside the top 10 after a third-round 78 in which nothing went right for her, summed up by a bogey at the closing hole where she hooked her tee shot and then chipped over the green into a bunker.

But it has been a great experience for both Australian players, the 22-year-old Oh especially.

Australia’s top-ranked player Minjee Lee had a tough third round, carding an 80 to sit tied-48th, while Karrie Webb, Katherine Hull and amateur Robyn Choi all missed the cut.