Rookie Felibert stretches LPGA NW Arkansas lead
Saturday, June 30, 2012
ROGERS, Ark. — Veronica Felibert couldn't have forgotten that Saturday was her 27th birthday even if she wanted to.
The LPGA rookie from Venezuela was treated to rousing renditions of "Happy Birthday" throughout her round by the crowd at the NW Arkansas Championship, and she remained on course for her best birthday present yet.
Felibert shot a 5-under 66 on Saturday to stretch her lead to four strokes with a round left.
She earned her position in the final pairing by continuing her surprising run at Pinnacle Country Club, where she made the field as the second alternate. After missing the cuts in her previous three tournaments, Felibert opened with a 65 on Friday to take a one-stroke lead.
The 723rd-ranked player in the world followed that with a bogey-free round Saturday, capping the day with a par-saving putt on No. 18.
"There are feelings that I cannot express right now, because it is what I have dreamt all my life for," Felibert said. "It's pretty cool to see my name up there, but at the same time I have been trying to not think too much about it and just play one shot at a time and enjoy it.
"I'm having a lot of fun."
Mika Miyazato and Inbee Park were tied for second and will join Felibert in the final group Sunday. Miyazato had a 65 on Saturday, and Park shot a 68. Brittany Lang had a 63, the best round of the week, to top a group of five players at 6 under.
Top-ranked Yani Tseng, the two-time defending champion and a three-time winner this year, followed her opening 73 with a 74 to miss her first cut in more than a year. Tseng's 74 was her sixth straight round over par entering next week's U.S. Women's Open.
As surprising as Tseng's struggles were, so too was the continued staying power of the relatively unknown Felibert — the former Southern California standout who spent the last two seasons on the Symetra Tour and hadn't shot better than a 71 in four previous LPGA tournaments this season.
Felibert had three top-10 finishes in two years on the Symetra Tour and never finished higher than fifth in a tournament. She has earned $2,489 this season on the LPGA Tour, thanks to a tie for 70th at the Mobile Bay Classic in April, and she'll tee off Sunday with a chance to earn the $300,000 first-place prize.
"I'm calm. I'm relaxed, yes," Felibert said. "I'm nervous and excited because it's something different, a position that I haven't been in lately, so it's pretty cool. But in general I'm pretty calm."
Felibert was treated to birthday reminders from the gallery throughout her round — including on the par-3 17th and after completing her round on No. 18.
"I've never been sang "Happy Birthday" that man times in a day," Felibert said.
She needed only 29 putts and opened her round with birdies on Nos. 2, 4 and 6, but one of her best putts came on a 10-foot par save on No. 11.
Felibert made the last of her five birdies with a 20-foot putt from off the green at the par-3 15th and finished her round with three pars to enter Sunday in the unfamiliar position of leader.
Lang made the day's biggest charge, shooting a 7-under 29 over her last nine holes and jumping from a tie for 76th to a tie for third at 6 under.
After earning her first career victory last week in Canada, she nearly matched the course record with her 63. Angela Park and Jane Park share the record of 62, both in 2008.
Lang opened her day with a three-putt bogey from off the green on No. 10, but she rallied and just missed a putt on No. 9 — her final hole — that would have matched the course record.
Lang followed her opening bogey with a birdie on the par-3 No. 11 and made the turn at 1 over four the tournament. Then Lang's scoring binge began, with birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 and an eagle on the par-5 seventh before a final birdie on No. 8.
The stretch was spurred on by a friendly bet with playing partner Suzann Pettersen.
"Suzann was telling me it was kind of boring out there so she wanted to play a birdie game, $20 birdies, and I birdied the first two holes," Lang said. "I don't think we realized it was the $20 birdie game, and then she told me she's not playing the money game ever again because she made three birdies and lost $80."
Lang was tied with Katie Futcher (67), Ai Miyazato (68), Ryann O'Toole (68) and LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng (70) at 6 under.
Local favorite and No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who played collegiately at the nearby University of Arkansas, shot a 69 on Saturday and was 3 under for the tournament.
Michelle Wie, mired in a season-long slump, shot a 74 to miss the cut.