Date: February 18, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

RD3 WRAP: Salas, Oh to duel for Open title



American Lizette Salas will take a two-shot lead in the final round of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at Royal Adelaide, but 20-year-old Australian Su Oh has roared into contention with today's best round in tough, breezy conditions.

Salas played a superb back nine today to post a 71 and reach 10-under, grabbing the lead when she made consecutive birdies at the 14th and 15th, and extending the margin to two when she two-putted for another birdie on the par-five 17th hole.

She will play in the last group tomorrow with Oh, the Melburnian who made such a splash on the LPGA Tour last year, finishing third in the rookie of the year award.

Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum and second-round leader Sarah Jane Smith also are at eight-under, two from the lead, but a bunch of others remain in contention including defending champion Haru Nomura of Japan and South Korea's world No. 6 Ha Na Jang, both just four back.

Oh exploded into contention with a 68, five-under par, and is in a great position to win her national Open for the first time at eight-under, set to play in the final group with Salas.

The Australian, who represented her country at the Olympic Games last year and won a world  amateur championship alongside the more heralded Minjee Lee, had a share of the lead before Salas' late surge.

"I mean, there are still 18 holes to go, I can’t quite think yet, but it’s my national title, so I really want to fight for it,'' said the Golf Australia rookie squad member, who has previously won an Australian Ladies Masters in 2015 in just her second event as a pro.

"It’s going to be tough but it would mean a lot.  You can’t really put a word to that.  It also would be my first win on the LPGA. Just a lot but currently I’m happy with how I played today and just tighten up a few more things for tomorrow and see what happens.''

Oh was already having a great round in the wind by the time she reached the 18th; that she hit a piercing iron to five metres and rolled the putt in only emphasised it. The Victorian, who emigrated to Melbourne from South Korea with her parents at aged eight, picked up golf from her father Seok-Gu, and came through the elite programs of Golf Victoria and Golf Australia, dominating at amateur level where she and Minjee Lee were two-thirds of a world championship team in 2014.

Lee has surged on to win twice on the LPGA Tour and in a sense, left Oh behind, but in this tournament Oh has been the better player, Lee back in the pack at three-under through three rounds. Oh said this week that her target for 2017 was to win an LPGA Tour event; her chance has come quite quickly.

As for Salas, she is delighted to have her father Ramon here, for he was not when she won her previous tournament two years ago. The American, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, has been strident in her social media criticism of President Donald Trump's immigration policy, although she was diplomatic enough to stay out of that debate today when she was asked at her media conference.

A Californian, she has her old caddie Greg Puga on the bag and they have taken a vow to ''get uncomfortable'' on the course, and through four holes today she had made two bogeys and lived true to those words. Beyond that, she changed her golf ball and started anew, playing what she called "boring golf'', hitting fairways and greens.

A win would be quite something for her, too.  "It would be such an honor and it would be my first win overseas, my first win with my Dad here. He wasn't there (in 2014), he was watching on television. To bounce back from the year I had last year, it would mean a lot. On 18 my hands were a little numb; I was just trying to relax and stay patient. We'll take it shot-for-shot tomorrow. It's been a while since I've been in this position. I'm just going to embrace it and have fun.''

Overnight leader Sarah Jane Smith (74) remained in contention despite starting with a bogey and battling through the day, book-ending her troubles with a bogey from the front-left of the 18th green, but in between holding firm. Of the other Australians, Rebecca Artis (three-under) has been sound while 20-year-old Hannah Green, also three-under, battled to a 76 in the windy conditions today.

First-round leader Katherine Kirk fell away today with a flat 80 that left her T35 at even par, alongside world No.1 Lydia Ko and world No.8 Brooke Henderson.

Meanwhile, Korean sensation Hye-jin Choi took a stranglehold on the race for low amateur with another impressive even-par 73 to remain three under in total.

Choi, 17, is seven strokes clear of the only other amateur to make the cut, the impressive Taiwanese youngster Heather Lin who fired a 77 today to finish at four over.