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Henderson, 17, eyes history at Swinging Skirts

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DALY CITY, Calif. – Brooke Henderson is chasing history.

The thing is ... history’s chasing her, too.

The 17-year-old Henderson will tee it up Sunday at the Swinging Skirts Classic looking to become just the third player to win an LPGA event before her 18th birthday. To join that exclusive club, however, she will have to hold off a couple players who know all about setting records at a young age.

Henderson kept herself atop the leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round after shooting an even-par 72 Saturday despite closing her round with back-to-back bogeys at Lake Merced Golf Club. She’s looking to join Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson as the only players to win an LPGA title before their 18th birthdays.

At 9-under 207, Henderson is one shot ahead of Morgan Pressel (67), who holds the record as the youngest woman to win a major championship. Ko (71) is just three back. Ko has set all kinds of records as a teenager in the professional ranks. She was the youngest winner of an LPGA event, claiming the CN Canadian Women’s Open as a 15-year-old. She won six times before turning 18 on Friday, including this event a year ago. Ko is the youngest Rolex world No. 1 in the history of men’s or women’s professional golf.

Henderson was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world when she turned pro last December. She is playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption and looking to try to earn LPGA membership without attending Q-School in the fall. She could do just that winning on Sunday. If Henderson wins, she can claim membership for the remainder of the year or defer it to next year. However, to do so she would need the LPGA to waive its restriction requiring tour members to be at least 18. 

Henderson’s shaky finish Saturday, coming after rules officials put her group on the clock for slow play, brought a lot of players back into the mix. Min Seo Kwak, yet another strong South Korean rookie, is one back after shooting 69. Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis (71) and No. 5 Shanshan Feng (71) are four back.

“This golf course, five or six shots is really not that much,” Lewis said. “This golf course is too hard for someone to just kind of run away with it.”

The LPGA’s making a habit of delivering compelling Sunday storylines, and the tour’s delivering yet another this week.

Henderson says she grew up admiring Pressel, who first made headlines qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12 and playing in it when she was 13. Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco when she was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old. She’s still the youngest woman to win a major.

Now Henderson’s faced with having to beat a player she admires so much in a head-to-head final round pairing. Henderson, Pressel and Kwak will play in the final group.

“Growing up she was my biggest role model, other than my sister,” Henderson said of Pressel. “I always looked up to her.”

Henderson first met Pressel when she was an 8-year-old attending the CN Canadian Women’s Open. At 15, she ended up being paired with Pressel in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open. There was a kinship.

“Ever since then, she's been very kind to me,” Henderson said.

Henderson made a strong impression.

“It was incredibly impressive,” Pressel said. “I knew she would be something special out on our tour as well. I've been following her career and it's been very, very impressive so far.”

Being paired with Pressel heightens the challenge for Henderson.

“I've still always been a little nervous around her, because I've looked up to her my whole life,” Henderson said. “But I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.”

While Henderson is going for her first LPGA title, Pressel is seeking her third, her first in seven seasons, since she won the Kapalua Classic.

Playing in a final pairing Saturday for the first time leading an LPGA event, Henderson looked so solid in the early going. She hit a hybrid 3-iron to 18 inches at the first hole to make birdie.

She doubled her lead to four shots on the front nine. A long hitter, she was superb off the tee, hitting the first 10 fairways she looked at, but her rhythm seemed to be thrown off after her group was put on the clock.

With Sakura Yokomine and Na Yeon Choi struggling, the group was told to speed up play by a rules official when they were coming off the ninth tee. At the 16th, they were put on the clock.

Henderson made bogey at the 17th after a poor chip that she appeared to hurry.

“I think being on the clock did have a little bit to do with it,” Henderson said. “I was a little bit quicker than I would've been otherwise.”

At the 18th, she hit her approach shot long and once again failed to get up and down.

“Overall it was a great day, and I'm really happy to be where I am. If someone told me at the beginning of the week I would be leading going into the final round, I would've taken it.”