Plenty of smiles in forecast for final round of ANA Inspiration

RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - MARCH 31: Amy Olson makes a tee shot on the fifth hole during round three of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on March 31, 2018 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Plenty of smiles in forecast for final round of ANA Inspiration

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Plenty of smiles in forecast for final round of ANA Inspiration

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The final pairing of the ANA Inspiration features two of the nicest players in golf. Seriously nice. Think Matt Kuchar nice. Whatever happens tomorrow, Amy Olson and Pernilla Lindberg, a couple of four-year college grads who have waited patiently for their big breaks, will handle it with class. And they’ll smile. A lot.

Lindberg stuffed her approach on the 18th to 5 feet and converted to post a 14-under 202, a new 54-hole record for this event. She leads Olson (68) by three strokes heading into what should be a calm, warm, go-low Sunday. Both Olson and Lindberg are winless on the LPGA. While Lindberg, 31, has one top-10 to her credit at a major (T-5 at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open), Olson hasn’t finished better than T-52nd (2016 USWO). 

Lindberg went into Saturday’s final group with the mindset of “How often do you get this chance?” She’ll need more of the same on Sunday, especially if there’s more of a crowd presence to amp-up the atmosphere.

“I’ve played a lot of golf in my life,” said Lindberg, “and I just feel like the pieces are kind of falling together. I’m just letting it happen.”

Olson hasn’t won at this level, but she has plenty of experience hoisting a trophy. She claimed an NCAA record 20 college titles at North Dakota State and before that, won the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Trump National.

“No matter what level it is, there are nerves,” said Olson, who competed as Amy Anderson before marrying Grant Olson last June. “You really have to learn to settle yourself down, how you perform best, and I know for me just being able to stay relaxed is going to be a huge key.”

Six players sit four strokes back at 10 under in a share of third. Chief among them is seven-time major winner Inbee Park, who shot 67 on Saturday and putted like a legend.

Sung Hung Park, last year’s U.S. Women’s Open champ and co-Player of the Year, crumbled on the back nine, posting 39 to finish at 2-over 74. Rounding out that group at 10 under: Charley Hull, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Moryia Jutanugarn and Jennifer Song. Five players in the top eight are looking for their first LPGA title.

Should Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park, the LPGA Hall of Famer and 18-time LPGA winner, get off to a hot start in the penultimate group, she’ll take on the role of intimidator.

“I mean, if I can put a little bit of pressure that’s great,” said Park, who makes it look entirely effortless.

When Park won here in 2013, the first of three consecutive majors, she was hitting her driver exceptionally straight.

“… my ball-striking was so pure,” she said of her victory in the desert. “I just didn’t miss many shots out there.”

Back then, Park instructed her father, who was en route to the airport in Seoul on Saturday, to stay at home. She didn’t want him to add any pressure in the final round. Well, he’s here this time, along with her mom, sister and husband, and so much has transpired for Park since then. There will be no need to bottle up the water in Poppie’s Pond for dad again, should she find her way back to the winner’s circle.

The other Park in contention, Sung Hyun, will need to head to the range to self-correct after hitting only five fairways in the third round. Sung Hyun hasn’t had a formal swing coach in years, so she’ll rely on the eyes of caddie David Jones to help find the form that led to opening rounds of 68-64.

“It was a rough day out there today,” she said.

Amateur Albane Valenzuela sits seven shots back after a third-round 71. The largest come-from-behind victory at this event came from Karrie Webb in 2006, when she trailed by seven going into Sunday. Michelle Wie and Caroline Keggi hold the record for best finish by an amateur at the ANA, finishing fourth in 2004 and 1988, respectively. Valenzuela got it to 10 under after an eagle on the 11th hole, but then dropped three shots coming in.

Albane and her brother, Alexis, have been the heat-warming story of this championship thus far. No matter what happens on Sunday, it has already been a week for the memory books.

“It’s so fun and so special for me,” said Albane. “He’s my best friend, he’s my little brother, and I just love having him on the bag.”

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