NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Bianca Pagdanganan is making her sixth career LPGA start, has never finished better than T-28 in an event and is ranked 712th in the world.
You gotta like her chances to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
The 22-year-old Filipino shot 5-under 65 on Saturday, tying the low round of the championship for the second straight day, to get to 3 under par. She's four shots off the 54-hole lead in her maiden major, alone in fifth place.
“This is my first major ever, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous, so I guess it was more of just me being able to embrace my nerves and playing with whatever I have,” she said after a five-birdie, no-bogey Saturday – her second consecutive bogey-free round.
“I honestly wasn't even thinking about that until I hit my last putt on the last hole, and I looked at my scorecard, and I was like, I don't think I've done this ever,” she said. “This is probably my first time where I've played two back-to-back rounds bogey-free, but it is definitely an achievement, especially on this course.”
It’s been a remarkable recovery for Pagdanganan, who opened in 7-over 77.
“I got back to the car [on Thursday], and my dad picked me up, and he basically just told me – he just looked at me and said, ‘Welcome to the majors.’ I was like, ‘Thanks, Dad, it's a great welcome,’” Pagdanganan said.
“My dad knows my game pretty well. He's with me in like every tournament, so he basically just told me, 'You've just got to stop thinking,' which I agree, because I do play better when I don't think. I'm not the most mechanical, technical person, I'm all about feel, so that's all he told me: 'You've just got to trust your swing – look at your target and just get it there.'
"That's basically what I've been doing the past two rounds, and it's been working really well.”
Recent LPGA majors have been filled with upsets and surprises, from this event last year, which was won by world No. 114 Hannah Green, to this year’s Women’s Open, which was won by No. 304 Sophia Popov.
But No. 712? A win from Pagdanganan might set an underdog standard never to be surpassed in major championships.
Why is she in contention? Power. She ranks first on the tour in driving distance.
Pagdanganan averages in excess of 287 yards off the tee, nearly five yards more than No. 2, Maria Fassi. Arnonimink Golf Club played at 6,441 yards on Saturday, 136 yards shorter than the max this week. The course is playing to her strength.
“This week, definitely, especially on some of the longer par 4s. I mean, I have longer irons in, which isn't really that bad, and maybe a few wedges on some of the par 4s, so I'd definitely say it was an advantage for me this week,” she said. “But I obviously had to keep it on the fairway, which I kind of struggled with on the first round, but kind of figured it out for my last two rounds.”
With quick hips and a natural gift, Pagdanganan has always been a powerful player. She helped lead Arizona to the women’s national championship in 2018, before turning pro and making her way to the LPGA, via a T-38 at last year’s Q-Series.
The key to converting a challenge into a win: Keep her mind clear.
“I'm probably going to stick to the same game plan tomorrow," she said. "I'm not going to try to overthink anything, and I think I do better when I don't think at all, so I'm just going to play my game and just enjoy my last round.”