By Andrew Both
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois (Reuters) – Danielle Kang stayed in contention to make her first professional victory a major after finishing tied for the lead with Chella Choi in the third round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Saturday.
Californian Kang avoided potential disaster at the 12th hole, chipping in for par after fluffing her first shot from the deep rough, en route to an otherwise steady three-under-par 68 on a breezy afternoon at Olympia Fields.
South Korean Choi bookended her round with birdies at the par-five first and 18th holes for a 67, joining Kang at 10-under 203 with one round remaining.
They lead by two strokes from South Korean Shin Ji-yai, who shot a best-of-the-day 64, while defending champion Brooke Henderson, of Canada, is three behind the leaders.
Kang, a two-times U.S. Women’s Amateur champion still seeking her first LPGA victory, moves in celebrity circles and is not shy about name-dropping.
She counts among her friends Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic decathlon champion who subsequently underwent a transgender procedure, and ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
“Wayne texted me this morning. He said ‘just go win it,’” Kang said. “Caitlyn Jenner called me yesterday. I have a couple of people rooting for me. I love it.
“It would be incredible to be called a major champion, however I didn’t really fortify the tournament as much as I wanted.”
If Kang gets her motivation from celebrity friends, Choi’s support network is more family oriented. Her father is back on her bag after a recent 10-week hiatus and Choi, who has one LPGA Tour victory, is relishing it.
“I’m very excited to work with my dad and he gives me a lot of confidence,” Choi said. “He just carries bag and says ‘calm down and focus on golf, just one shot (at a time). If you are bogey free today I give you a gift’. That’s why I’m bogey free.
“I’m just thinking what I need,” she added smiling. “Maybe money. There is no price limit but I have to be considerate of the fact that it is a gift from my father, so I want to do something that’s modest.”
Choi’s appearance on the leaderboard comes in the first major since Lexi Thompson was penalised at the ANA Inspiration for not replacing her ball in the same spot after marking it on the green.
Choi was penalised two strokes for an almost identical incident at the 2014 Canadian Pacific Women’s Open after a television viewer notified the LPGA of the infraction, which happened in the second round.
Choi said she sympathised with Thompson, but also had learned a lesson.
“I felt very bad for Lexi, but that incident helped me realise and learn that I need to play more as a role model,” Choi said.
(Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford)