CHASKA, Minn. – Australia’s Hannah Green finally blinked late Saturday afternoon, but not before serving notice that she is game to try to deliver the LPGA a memorable major championship upset.
If she’s going to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she’s going to do it having stared down Ariya Jutanugarn over the final 36 holes.
That’s a daunting task for a second-year LPGA member who is ranked No. 114 in the world, has never won an LPGA title and is contending for the first time in a major.
Jutanugarn, after all, swept every important LPGA honor last year, taking the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the Race to the CME Globe and the LPGA money title.
“The most daunting thing is knowing how far she hits it,” Green said.
Green more than held her own most of the day on Saturday, answering Jutanugarn’s best shots with her own, until opening the door at day’s end. Three ahead at round’s start, Green was still up three with two holes to go, but Jutanugarn birdied the 17th and Green bogeyed the last.
With a 2-under-par 70, Green moved to 9 under, one shot ahead of Jutanugarn (68) and four clear of Lizette Salas (68) and Nelly Korda (69).
“Kind of felt like match play,” Green said. “It was very disappointing to end with a three-putt, my first all week.”
Green, 22, is an even bigger underdog than Pernilla Lindberg was in taking down Inbee Park to win the ANA Inspiration last year. Lindberg was No. 95 in the world the week she won at Mission Hills.
Green is an even bigger underdog than Mo Martin, who was No. 96 in the world when she won the Women’s British Open five years ago.
“I wasn't nervous on the first tee,” Green said. “Obviously, it's my first time in this position, so I feel like I will be a little bit nervous come tomorrow, but I think when I have more time to wait in between shots, that's when I start to feel the nerves. I was like, 'OK, my heart is beating.’”
Jutanugarn didn’t see any flinch in Green.
With birdies at the third, fourth and seventh holes, Jutanugarn couldn’t dent Green’s three-shot lead early.
“I couldn’t put any pressure on her,” Jutanugarn said. “She made every putt.”
Jutanugarn struggled to catch Green even though Green could barely hit a fairway on the front nine. Green missed five of the first six fairways she looked at and was still 3 under for the day.
“I was missing them in good spots,” Green said.
Though Green hit just six fairways overall, she missed just one green.
“I love how she plays golf,” Jutanugarn said. “She played the front nine unbelievable, up and down, long putts. It's amazing how she played.”
Sunday’s challenge could include the weather. With rain expected, players will go off in threesomes on the first and 10th tees, with the leaders going off at 12:35 p.m. ET.
Green is a former Karrie Webb scholarship winner. She’s renting a home with a group of eight that includes Webb this week. Webb encouraged her before Saturday’s round.
Green said Jutanugarn was gracious as a big-time star in their first time playing together.
“I can generally say I felt like she really cared about how I was doing out there,” Green said. “We had a lot of time to chat. She was lovely.”
Jutanugarn’s game is looking lovely again, too. After dominating last year, she hasn’t found the same form yet this year, but it looks like it’s returning. She’s seeking her third major championship title, her first LPGA victory this year.
“I’m really happy how I played the last three days, because I feel so free,” Jutanugarn said.