RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Jennifer Kupcho started fast and kept on going Saturday in The Chevron Championship to take a six-stroke lead into the last round ever at Mission Hills in the major championship.
Kupcho shot an 8-under 64 on anther hot and sunny afternoon in the Coachella Valley for a tournament-record 16-under 200 total — also the lowest three-round score in a women’s major.
“Everything was working,” Kupcho said. “I mean, seriously, this week I think my putting is definitely the props. I have putted really well and you got to make putts in a major championship.”
Defending champion Patty Tavatanakit, playing alongside Kupcho in the second-to-last group, was second after a 70. The Thai player declined to comment after the round.
Kupcho moved into position to win for the first time on the LPGA Tour and take the last victory leap in Poppie’s Pond, three years after passing up a spot in the event to play and win that week in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. She watched the Augusta event before her late tee time Saturday.
“That was pretty cool and just brings back those good memories,” Kupcho said. “I don’t know if that was positive vibes, but definitely did watch that. I think it helped to get my mind off this tournament.”
The event that started in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle and became a major in 1983 is moving to Houston after failing to attract a sponsor willing to keep it at history-packed Mission Hills.
Kupcho birdied eight of the first 12 holes in mostly calm conditions. After an opening par, the 24-year-old former Wake Forest star from Colorado birdied the next four. She added a birdie on No. 8 and opened the back nine with three straight birdies.
“Honestly, it’s all a blur,” Kupcho said. “I mean, I hit the fairways, hit the greens and really was just trying to put smooth putting strokes on them. That’s what I did, and they fell.”
Tavatanakit appeared to be in position to cut into the lead on the par-5 11th when she hit her 256-yard second to 6 feet, with Kupcho in the left greenside bunker in two. But Tavatanakit missed the eagle putt and Kupcho got up-and-down for birdie, holing a 6-footer to match Tavatanakit.
Both players bogeyed the par-4 13th, and Kupcho stretched the lead to seven on the par-3 17th when she made a 10-foot birdie putt and Tavatanakit bogeyed the hole. Tavatanakit got one back with a birdie on the par-5 18th.
Kupcho broke the 54-hole record of 14 under set by Pernilla Lindberg in 2018 and matched by Tavatanakit last year. Dottie Pepper set the 72-hole mark of 19-under 269 in 1999.
Kupcho also matched her lowest tour score, hitting all but one fairway and three greens in regulation on the tree-lined layout.
“It’s really special, just to be out here,” Kupcho said. “I love this place. I love stepping on property. You just get positive vibes. It’s such a beautiful course, so I think just taking it all in. But then again, just once it’s time to hit a shot, focusing on that shot.”
Jessica Korda was third at 9 under after a 67.
“They’re baking out these greens, so it’s really tough and you got to keep figuring out where to land it and how much it might roll out,” Korda said. “It’s playing a pretty big factor, especially on some of these pins.”
Annie Park shot a 73 to fall to 7 under.
Lexi Thompson, the 2014 champion, had a 71 to match Brooke Henderson (67), Hannah Green (68), Gabriela Ruffels (71), Hyo Joo Kim (73) and Nanna Koerstz Madsen (72) at 6 under.
“Score-wise, obviously, I have to shoot like lights out, but honestly just overall enjoying every single step of being the last round out here,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, they can get another event out here.”
Koerstz Madsen has a playoff victory and loss in her last two starts, beating Xiyu Lin three weeks ago in Thailand to become the first Danish winner in LPGA Tour history and losing to Atthaya Thitikul last week in Carlsbad.
Second-round leader Hinako Shibuno had a 77 to drop 12 strokes back.
Top-ranked Jin Young Ko, the 2019 winner, was even par after a 74.
Brooke Seay, the Stanford junior who turned down a spot at Augusta to play the final event at Mission Hills, was the only one of the four amateurs in the field to make the cut. She was 1 over after a 75.
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