EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – The Evian Championship could be looking at one wild finish with 16-year-old amateur sensation Lydia Ko poised to shock the golf world yet again.
That’s if there’s actually a finish.
Nobody’s quite sure if the LPGA’s fifth major will end with a flood of birdies or just a flood with heavy overnight rains expected. The Evian grounds crew was busy covering its greens with tarps after Saturday’s play was complete.
Japan’s Mika Miyazato tops an intriguing leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round, if anybody’s noticed. The event’s first two rounds have almost been overshadowed by all the angst and debate over whether the Evian Championship ought to be a major, whether Evian Resort Golf Club is truly a major championship test and whether the tour should have shortened a new major desperate for credibility to 54 holes.
Those questions aside, the competitive questions are growing compelling.
Can Ko really pull this off? At 16 years old, can she become the youngest winner in the history of major championship golf? Can she really become just the third amateur to win a major in the women’s game?
With a birdie-birdie finish Saturday, Ko fashioned a bogey-free 4-under-par 67 to move a shot behind Miyazato (69).
At 8-under 134, Miyazato is looking to win her first major at 23.
There are some formidable challengers beyond Ko chasing.
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen (69), looking to win back-to-back LPGA titles, also trails by a shot.
Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak (71) is among a trio three shots back.
Ko, though, could be just the antidote for what’s ailing the Evian. If she wins, who’s going to remember all the angst that shrouded Evian’s debut as a major? Ko is the ultimate trump card. If she wins, the buzz it will generate around the world will drown out all the wailing and gnashing of teeth this week.
Weather permitting, Ko will go off in the final threesome Sunday with Miyazato and Pettersen.
“There are so many players who are close,” Ko said. “I’ve just got to play my game.”
Ko became the youngest winner of an LPGA event when she claimed the CN Canadian Women’s Open as a 15-year-old last year. She successfully defended her title three weeks ago in a five-shot runaway. She has won four professional titles as an amateur.
While Ko’s ball-striking was phenomenal Saturday, she grew frustrated with her putter. She missed three birdie chances inside 10 feet on the front nine, two of them inside 6 feet, but her mood lightened after she closed with birdies at the 17th and 18th holes.
Ko hit every fairway but one. She missed just three greens.
“I definitely gave myself a lot of opportunities,” Ko said. “I missed a lot of putts. I was pretty angry, and it was really building up. When I putted my birdie at 17, I said, 'Come on, please, it’s time to go in.’”
Only two amateurs have won women's majors. Catherine Lacoste won the U.S. Women’s Open in ’67. Pat O’Sullivan won the Titleholders in 1951.
Some proven major championship winners are also eager to overtake Miyazato.
Lewis, 28, is the Rolex world No. 2. She’s looking for her fourth LPGA title this year, her eighth in the last two seasons. She won the Ricoh Women’s British Open, closing fiercely last month. She won at St. Andrews with a birdie-birdie finish and a 5-iron through the wind at the Road Hole, a shot that ranks among the best ever hit in the close of a major.
Those memories are there to help Lewis this week.
“It took awhile for that to sink in, but knowing you can hit those shots, that I can hit the 5-iron like I did into 17, I think that’s huge for your confidence,” Lewis said. “I think I was three behind with two or three holes to play. Just knowing that anything can happen, and you have to keep hanging in there.”
Pettersen has some terrific momentum going. Five weeks ago, she was the heart and soul of the European Solheim Cup team that won on American soil for the first time. She won the Safeway Classic two weeks ago, claiming her 12th LPGA title. She hasn’t finished worse than T-7 in her last four starts.
At 32, though, it’s still what lies ahead that motivates Pettersen. She wants to win a second major. She wants to be No. 1.
“I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business out here,” Pettersen said. “I feel like my best game is ahead of me, and that’s what keeps me on my tippy toes.”
With a Rolex world ranking of No. 3, Pettersen is looking to move up. She has been as high as No. 2, but hasn't yet gained that top spot. She is probably the best active player today who hasn’t been No. 1.
“Winning tournaments is what I’m striving for,” Pettersen said. “If you do that, the rest will take care of itself. You can’t control what your opponents are doing. Inbee Park has had a fantastic season. I’ve been up against a few good No. 1s. I just think it makes you want it even more, grind it out, get even better every day.”