FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Ariya Jutanugarn’s birdie count continues to climb at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Through 54 holes, the 16-year-old’s stack of scorecards has 16 circles. There also was an eagle in Round 2. But on Thursday, Jutanugarn played an uncharacteristic round.
Despite six birdies, Jutanugarn battled an extreme left shot that had her missing fairways and greens. She made five bogeys to finish at 1-under 71, her highest round of the week. Through three rounds of the Junior PGA Championship, Jutanugarn is at 9 under and shares the lead with Samantha Wagner.
Jutanugarn’s slip-ups left the door open for Wagner, playing in the same group as Jutanugarn, to close the gap.
“Everything was workng well,” Wagner said of her 3-under 69. “I was making putts, I was chipping well, I was hitting the fairways and the greens.”
Wagner had never played with Jutanugarn before Friday, but the Thai teen has garnered even more of a reputation this summer as she compiles win after win. The margin of victory generally is high, too. Wagner was pleased to play next to the country’s top junior, and even more pleased that her game stacked up.
“I was so happy because I hit it kind of close to her,” Wagner said.
Even though she’s 9 under on the week, Jutanugarn says her swing is “weird.” Her generally left-to-right ball flight has taken an extreme turn. She’s also struggled with her irons as her distances become unpredictable. The problem, she says, goes all the way through her bag, but her 56-degree wedge has been especially unpredictable.
“Maybe I have to fix my swing,” she said. “. . . I don’t know, I can’t hit straight.”
Aside from Wagner, four other players are within six shots of Jutanugarn. Call it striking distance. One of those is Ariya’s 18-year-old sister Moriya, who three times this summer has finished runner-up to Ariya. She did it just last week, at the Canadian Women’s Amateur.
Moriya, who shot 4-under 68 Thursday to get to 7 under, will play in the final group on Friday with Wagner and Ariya. She says she likes playing with Ariya because they always have fun. It’s also good motivation to score.
“I just want to play smart tomorrow,” Moriya said.
Alison Lee, also at 7 under after a third-round 69, will play in the group ahead. She plans to make it her goal to limit her look backs. With so many low scores already on the board at Sycamore Hills, she’s not sure what it will take to win the title tomorrow.
“You honestly never know because there’s pressure and there might be weather,” she said. “There’s all the different elements that might contribute.”
Lee, No. 4 in Golfweek‘s Junior Rankings and the runner-up at the U.S. Girls’ Junior earlier this month, has won tournaments from the next-to-last group. The 17-year-old has also been around long enough to know there is an advantage in leading.
“Two strokes might not sound like much,” she said. “But it is a lot.”