THE COLONY, Texas — Hyo Joo Kim had a rough start, just like everyone else in windy, cool conditions Saturday in The Ascendant LPGA. She recovered with enough birdies for a 1-under 70, building a five-shot lead going into the final round.
Sarah Kemp did her own recovery work with five birdies and an eagle when she drove the green to about 10 feet on the par-4 15th. She had a 69 and was tied for second with Lexi Thompson, who finished strong for a 71.
Kim, the No. 7 player in the women’s world ranking, is going for her first LPGA victory of the year. The former major champion has won each of the previous two years.
Kim was at 11-under 202 at Old American Golf Club.
The course played so difficult early that by the end of the round, only eight players managed to break 70 and the low score was a 68.
Thompson would appear to be trending. Not only has she gone four years without winning on the LPGA Tour — she did win a Saudi-sponsored Ladies European Tour event last year in New York — she was in danger of losing her LPGA Tour card a month ago.
But she had a solid Solheim Cup performance, had her first top 10 of the season last week in Arkansas and now plays in the final group with Kim and Kemp.
Thompson looked to be a victim, like so many others, of the rough weather at the start of the round, making three quick bogeys. She was happy to get back to even par for the day. That included an unlikely birdie on the par-5 17th. She hooked her 3-wood, banging her club into the turf out of frustration, and it cleared the water and ran along the dry ground.
From a hard-pan lie about 30 yards away, she played sand wedge to 12 feet and made the putt.
“I would say probably my best shot was after my not-so-great shot on 17,” Thompson said. “Overall, just happy with how I committed to my shots out there.”
Kemp has been grinding to make the top 60 who get into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. CME is one of her corporate sponsors. Kemp came into the week at No. 72.
“It’s all I’m thinking about,” Kemp said. “I’m in a nice position this year — I’ve locked up my card, and now I’m fighting for CME.”
Kemp said she would be heading for part of the Asia swing to help her cause. The LPGA Tour is in Shanghai next week. Thompson, who also needs a good fall, instead is taking a sponsor exemption to play the PGA Tour event in Las Vegas.
For now, the goal is to try to catch Kim, and that would appear to be a tall order. She had three birdies in a four-hole stretch midway through the back nine, ending that stretch with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th.
The turf is so brittle that her approach to the 18th rolled through the green and down a slope, but she pitched it perfectly to tap-in range to keep her lead at five shots.
Celine Boutier, who leads the Race to CME Globe, was trying to stay in range until she made four bogeys over the last six holes for a 74. Combined with Kim’s strong finish, Boutier suddenly was eight shots behind.