Another wild drive by Ganne, and she’s forced to pitch out sideways from behind a tree at 5. A little backwards, in fact. She had no other shot. Having found the fairway, she arrows her third at the flag, but the ball takes one bounce into thick greenside rough and disappears. One yard longer, and that would have been very close. She holds her head in her hands. It’s all good experience from the university of life, before she goes to actual university at Stanford.
Lee6 gets up and down from distance at 5 to limit the damage to bogey. A lovely sand wedge in from 80 yards to ten feet. Her second spot is taken by Shanshan Feng, who has been going along very steadily: 15 pars yesterday, four to start today, and now birdie at 5. Pars all round at 4 in the final group. These are the only players now under par for this tournament:
-7: Thompson (4)
-3: Feng (5)
-2: Khang (5), Hataoka (5), Lee6 (5), Saso (4)
To illustrate how difficult the Lake Course is playing today, only 12 players from a field of 66 are in red figures for their round. Only two of that dozen are more than one shot to the good: Celine Herbin (through 7, +1 overall) and last year’s joint runner-up Amy Olsen (through 6, level par overall). This will be Herbin’s best performance in a major by far; the 38-year-old from France’s previous best is a tie for 46th at the PGA.
Lee6, currently No2, hooks her tee shot at 5 into big trouble. The thickest rough, from which she barely advances her ball an inch. Take two finds the fairway. Bogey will be a good score from here. Back on 4, Thompson splits the fairway, then arrows her second to 12 feet. She’ll have a great look at birdie, and everything is falling into place for the 2014 Dinah Shore champion here.
Megan Khang would be an extremely popular winner. When it was all turning to dust on the back nine yesterday, she battled on with a smile, and that birdie / scrambled par finish, both holes celebrated in carefree style, might stand her in good stead. That’s because, having bogeyed 2, she’s gone on to birdie 3 and now 5, rolling in from 30 feet, to join the group at -2.
A huge putt here for Thompson, who gently strokes her 12-footer into the cup to scramble par. All of a sudden, she’s got a four-stroke lead … over Lee6. Saso makes it back-to-back doubles after pushing her bogey putt wide right. Par for Ganne, stopping the rot to great acclaim.
-7: Thompson (3)
-3: Lee6 (4)
-2: Hataoka (4), Feng (4), Saso (3)
Thompson chips her second straight at the flag, but it’s not firm enough and she’s left with a 12-footer for par. Saso’s stuttering start continues as she blasts high out of the sand, but a good 25-feet past the hole. She leaves the long par putt five feet short, too. Ganne meanwhile hangs around patiently as the pair go about their business, having settled herself with a lovely tee shot over the flag to six feet.
“That was so bad.” Thompson reacts to her 8-iron into the par-three 3rd, which she hits heavy, her ball ending way short of the green and to the right. She’s not in quite so much trouble as Saso, who dunks her effort into a deep bunker. The leading pair are dragging each other down at the minute. It’s not easy closing out a major championship, is it.
Saso’s chip into 2, her fourth, isn’t all that, leaving a 30-foot putt for bogey. She very nearly rolls it in, but the ball sticks on the lip. A double. Ganne’s third from the fringe rolls 12 feet past, and results in a bogey. A double bogey, bogey start for the 17-year-old amateur. The crowd fall sadly silent as their young hero slips to level par. Thompson also drops a stroke, failing to get up and down from the front, her saver stopping a dimple short, just like Ganne’s.
-7: Thompson (2)
-4: Saso (2)
-3: Lee6 (3)
-2: Hataoka (3), Feng (3)
-1: Stark (4), Khang (4)
E: Olson (5), Yin (4), Ganne (2)
While the 2nd takes chunks out of the final group, the Swedish amateur Maja Stark rolls in a 15-footer on 4 for another birdie. She’s -1. Then back on 3, Lee6 bounces back from bogey by snaking in a monster putt from off the front of 4. That’s a real momentum shifter! She’s back to -3, and may find herself even closer to the leaders in a couple of minutes’ time.
Lexi, in the rough on the other side of the hole, follows Ganne in sending a chaser towards the front of the green. It’s about all either player could do. Finally it’s the turn of Saso, who appears to be in about 22 minds about what to do. She eventually hacks through the thick nonsense, but only manages to advance her ball 50 yards or so, still in the deep rough. She can only hack back out to the fairway, and will need to get up and down from 50 yards for bogey.
Saso’s ball is snagged in all sorts of Olympic-standard filth. Halfway up a bank, too. She’s got to decide whether to take her medicine and chip out sideways, or just go for the green with one big gouge. She’s got the power, it might be worth going for it, given there’s no certainty in the sensible option either. A big moment coming up, early doors. She’d take bogey now, if offered, you’d imagine. Ganne meanwhile only just missed the fairway with her drive, but the rough is so lush, she does extremely well to chase her ball up to the fringe.
That wasn’t a great putt by Thompson, in truth. A bit off the toe, the ball squirting a couple of crucial millimetres to the right. She sends her drive at 2 into the first cut down the left. Not ideal, but nowhere near as bad as Saso, who sends a huge slice miles right. By all accounts she’s modelled her swing on Rory McIlroy, whose recent major-championship travails open up a world of comedic possibility here. Up on the green, it’s a three-putt bogey for Lee6.
Thompson tickles her putt up to the lip, but it stubbornly refuses to drop. No matter, that’s an opening birdie and she’s extended her lead over Saso, who does well to get up and down from the back. Ganne can’t manage it, though, and it’s a double-bogey seven. A nightmare start for the young amateur, who flings her putter onto her bag in her first show of frustration all week.
-8: Thompson (1)
-6: Saso (1)
-3: Lee6 (1)
-2: Hataoka (1), Feng (1)
-1: Ganne (1)
Saso lays up at 1, only to send her wedge over the back of the green. Ganne – who doesn’t hang about, playing at the sort of speed that would make Brooks look like Bryson – clips what seems a perfectly judged fourth towards the flag, but it keeps on rolling and topples off alongside Saso. “Aw come on!” shouts someone in the crowd. The gallery has had her back all week, and they’re not about to abandon the effervescent amateur now.
Ganne has been ice-cool all week, but the nerves may have finally caught up with her. She’s forced to take her medicine and chip back out onto the 1st fairway, then slices her third into the gallery down the right. It’s a complete contrast to the way Thompson is playing the hole: she takes advantage of her big drive by lashing a long iron straight at the flag, the ball rolling serenely to ten feet or so, setting up an eagle chance. As statements of intent go, that’s a doozy. The putter often goes cold on Thompson; if she makes this, she might decide that it’s going to be her day.
Birdie for Nasa Hataoka on the 1st. Pars for Shanshan Feng and Jeongeun Lee6, the latter knocking in a six-foot saver that should give her succour after yesterday’s putting woes. The flat stick has been letting the 2019 winner down this week.
Here comes the marquee grouping! The 17-year-old amateur Megha Ganne is up first. A slightly nervous smile turns into a broad one as the gallery welcome her with a huge cheer. She was a bit wayward off the tee yesterday, and that continues here as she sends her drive well right. Yuka Saso is up next. She was also all over the shop with the big stick yesterday, but her first drive splits the fairway. Finally it’s the leader Lexi Thompson. She’s not won on Tour for nearly two years, so some nerves would be understandable, but she obliterates one down the track. That’s gone miles. Everyone’s out, then. This is on!
Megan Khang needs a fast start today. She was right up there yesterday afternoon, until four consecutive bogeys between 13 and 16 sent her crashing down the leaderboard. Her spirit didn’t break, though, and she celebrated birdie at 17 with a smile and an ironic celebration, then did the same, with added laughter, upon draining a par saver on the last. The only way to respond to a nightmare back nine, as she came home in 40. She immediately sets up a straight 15-foot birdie chance this morning, but pulls it wide left. So much for springing out of the blocks. She remains at -1.
In just about any other year – one without the sensational antics of Megha Ganne – we’d all be talking about Maja Stark. The 21-year-old amateur from Sweden has been hovering on the periphery this week, posting rounds of 71, 70 and 73. She’s birdied 1 this morning, too, and currently stands at level par for the tournament. As things stand, she’s tied for eighth place. Normally this is nosebleed territory for an amateur, but Stark has been there, done that: she tied for 13th on debut last year.
Before the leading contenders take to the stage, word of the first-round leader Mel Reid. A 67 on Thursday sparked talk of a possible maiden major for the 33-year-old from Derby. She looked focused, bang in the zone, a study in determination. But all that intensity must have been mentally exhausting. A disappointing 73 on Friday, then a strange 78 yesterday that variously featured a shank, a whiffed chip and a hole-out from 100 yards for eagle. Out of contention, she’s already carded a couple of bogeys today, at 2 and 4, and has slipped down to +7. But when it all comes down, this week should give her plenty of confidence going forward. As a late bloomer in the majors, compared to your Lexis, Inbees and Lydias, she’s trending in the right direction. Glory soon?
The tee times for the final groups at the business end of this US Open, then. All BST.
5.59pm: Kim Hyo-joo, Maja Stark (a), Brooke Henderson
6.11pm: Megan Khang, Inbee Park, Angel Yin
6.23pm: Jeongeun Lee6, Shanshan Feng, Nasa Hataoka
6.35pm: Lexi Thompson, Yuka Saso, Megha Ganne (a)
It almost defies belief that Lexi Thompson has only one major title to her name. When she won the Kraft Nabisco in 2014 at 19, it was assumed that she’d start racking up the slams with Sorenstamian regularity. But for one reason and another, it’s never quite happened. Three second places in the majors, three thirds, 16 top-ten finishes. It’s about that time, and yesterday’s flawless 66 was carpe-diem stuff. This is the first time she’s led the US Open after any round, a stat that might not say much about most 26-year-olds, but Thompson first played in this tournament in 2007 at the precocious age of 12. This is her 15th consecutive appearance. Is she finally going to land major number two?
Yuka Saso is best placed to stop her. The powerful Filipino spent most of yesterday’s round driving like Seve, but no matter, thanks to her ability to gouge back into position, as though the penal Olympic Club rough wasn’t there, and her scrambling skills around the greens; she chips a bit like Seve, too. If she wins today, she’ll join Inbee Park as the only teenage winner of the US Open. Park won in 2008 at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days; that’s Saso’s exact age today. Some things seem written.
Or could Megha Ganne become only the second amateur to win the US Open, matching the feat of Catherine Lacoste in 1967? The 17-year-old from New Jersey received vociferous support from the gallery yesterday, at one point getting to within a shot of the lead. When asked for her secret, she smiled: “I figure why not make it fun?” She’s the real deal.
Some big names are lurking, including 2019 champion Jeongeun Lee6, 2012 PGA winner Shanshan Feng, major champs in waiting Nasa Hataoka and Megan Khang, and seven-time major winner Inbee Park. Should Thompson and Saso hit their stride, it will be a two-woman race, but anything can happen at Olympic Club, and it can happen to the best of them: just ask Arnold Palmer, who lost a seven-stroke lead on the back nine to Billy Casper in the 1966 men’s version. The final round of the 76th US Women’s Open is very much on. Our coverage begins at 6pm BST.
-7: Lexi Thompson
-6: Yuka Saso
-3: Megha Ganne, Jeongeun Lee6
-2: Shanshan Feng
-1: Nasa Hataoka, Megan Khang
E: Inbee Park