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Couldn’t be Closer

Judging by how things have gone so far in this week’s HSBC Women’s Champions, Ariya Jutanugarn and Minjee Lee could be neck and neck coming down the stretch in tomorrow’s final round.  As has applied on each of the first three days, they will be playing together, with Jutanugarn 11 under par and one ahead after a 68, a 71 and a scintillating 66. Mind you, there is a third party in Jodi Ewart Shadoff who, at nine under, could give the pair of them a deal of trouble.

At the start of last week’s tournament in Thailand, Jutanugarn said she had not been at all comfortable. She had felt nervous and ended up in 14th place as Lee came in second behind Amy Yang.

For the first two rounds of this week, the World No. 1 was still having a bit of an inner struggle. It was hardly apparent in that she was as well-placed as five under at the half-way point but, when someone posed the question, “What’s the strongest part of your game,” she came back with a shy but emphatic “Nothing, yet!”

Things started to happen early into her third round. She holed one putt and then another – and notched as many as six birdies over the afternoon.

Lee is one tough player to have at her heels. Having finished second in Thailand, the Australian has just jumped from fifth in the world to third, with her confidence having taken a corresponding leap.

She was two behind Jutanugarn after 16 today but sank an unappetising 20 footer at the short 17th to narrow the gap.

Asked if she would sooner be in front or behind going into the last lap, Lee said that it did not bother her either way. What is happening with Jutanugarn will bother her not at all; she will be concentrating on her own game.

She sprayed a couple of drives in her 67, including the one from the first tee which chased into the left rough. Again, she was conscious of having missed a couple of putts which could have dropped. However, neither flaw was preying on her mind. “A couple of little adjustments and I’ll be all right.”

Unlike Jutanugarn or Lee, Ewart Shadoff does not have any wins under her belt. However, what with three top tens this year alone, and a selection of top ten finishes in the majors, including a runner-up spot in the British Open of 2017, no-one would be surprised were she to notch her first victory any time now.

“I’ve got to stay in the moment, not get ahead of myself,” she said,

Jutanugarn, having been brought up in Thailand, is probably the least affected by the intense heat in these parts. Shadoff, though, seems blissfully unaware of the temperature at the moment. “My confidence,” she said, “is keeping me energised.”