LPGA

Jaye Marie Green’s putter was almost as blazing hot as the Texas sun on Saturday at the Volunteers of America Classic. With mostly sunny skies and temperatures soaring into the mid-90s, Green opened with seven birdies in her first eight holes to make the turn at Old American Golf Club in 28.

“I kind of felt like I blacked out a little. I honestly was just really in the zone,” said Green of that opening birdie streak. “That's one of those things where when you're in it, it's kind of hard to describe, but nothing outside bothers you.”

Green added another birdie at No. 11 to pull four strokes clear of the field, but that red-hot putter cooled off on the back nine. After parring the next three holes, the 25-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, bogeyed 14 and 15 to drop to just a one-stroke advantage.

Things again looked bleak at the par-3 16th, when Green’s tee shot came up well short of the green. But with her trusty putter in hand, Green dropped a bomb from 28 feet to save not only par but her round.

“That save was huge for my soul, you know,” said Green. “I had something like that happen yesterday where it's never good to go back-to-back bogeys … but to then make three in a row all with the putter, what was making me this many under. So it was really good to kind of resurface.”

Another birdie at No. 17 gave Green a third-round 7-under 64 and solo possession of the lead at -14 heading into Sunday’s final round. She hopes to better her performance from May’s U.S. Women’s Open, when she was one stroke off the lead going into the final round but closed with a 74 to tie for fifth.

Local favorite Cheyenne Knight birdied the 18th hole to keep close, shooting a third-round 67 to sit one stroke off the lead at -13. The LPGA Tour rookie, who lives 65 miles from Old American in Aledo, looks for more than just a victory this week in front of a big crowd of friends and family. At 120th on the LPGA Money List with $71,346, she needs to jump into the top 100 to avoid going to Q-Series to better her 2020 LPGA status.

Katherine Perry and Brittany Altomare are tied for fourth at -12. All four Americans – Green, Knight, Perry and Altomare – are searching for their first LPGA Tour victories. But a pair of veteran Korean winners are lurking just behind. Nine-time winner Sei Young Kim is fifth at -9, while 2019 U.S. Women’s Open winner Jeongeun Lee6 is tied for sixth at -8. She is joined by three other players looking for a breakthrough LPGA victory in Caroline Hedwall, Jane Park and Alena Sharp.

Superb start surprises Green

Jaye Marie Green, who leads the Volunteers of America Classic at -14, put on a clinic during the first nine. Seven birdies in eight holes with just nine putts rewarded Green with a front-nine 28. The 28-year-old said she did not realize how spectacular the start was until the seventh hole but knew not to let it get to her head.

“When you're in the middle of it, you don't really realize like I only had two pars through 10 holes,” said Green. “I was like, oh, my gosh. I'm like, ah, forget about it, if it's my time to shoot in the 50s it will happen. But it didn't and I was happy with how things went.”

When Green hit two roadblocks with bogeys on No. 14 and 15, she channeled the lessons she learned from the U.S. Women’s Open and her six years playing on the LPGA Tour to get her through.

“My main thing is sometimes, like at the U.S. Open, what I learned was I was always picturing myself holding the trophy. I'm like, Jaye, you're not there yet. When you're there, then let yourself feel all the emotions. Today that was coming in my mind. I was like, ‘Jaye, it's the third round, there's so much golf left, just stay focused,’” said Green. “Being six years on Tour, I kind of feel like we all pay our dues. I'm like I've learned so many lessons that you never really -- it's not learning if you don't take something from it and then apply it. So I feel like I did a good job of doing that today.”

Cheyenne Knight ready to rise to the challenge

Cheyenne Knight seems to be finding her best golf with her back against the wall. With Q-Series looming, the 2019 LPGA Tour rookie came into the Volunteers of America Classic knowing she needed a high finish to avoid a trip to Pinehurst, N.C. With a third-round 67, Knight stayed consistent at Old American Golf Club to finish one stroke off the lead at -13.

“I thought I did really well on small targets and just keep being aggressive. I was really disciplined like with some of those pin positions, just firing middle of the green because my speed's been pretty well all week,” said Knight.

Knight felt the pressure being under the gun last season on the Symetra Tour. She finished just short of skipping directly to Q-Series at the Symetra Tour Championship. She moved through Stage II of the Qualifying Tournament and then finished in the top 45 at Q-Series to earn her 2019 card. After a hard-fought season, she said her experiences over the past two years are her biggest motivators, especially for tomorrow’s performance in the final grouping that could change her career.

“For me in my golf career, I know I can persevere,” said Knight. “I wouldn't change those hard experiences like for anything. It's made me a lot stronger, because my first year on the LPGA, it's been very difficult. I mean, after Portland I bogeyed the last two holes to miss the cut and I'm like, ‘you've got to be stronger mentally.’ I know I'm strong enough to do it, so just trying to hit fairways and greens.”

American duo close to first LPGA wins

The two Americans tied for third, Katherine Perry and Brittany Altomare, are looking for their first LPGA Tour victories. At -12, both players are just two strokes behind leader Jaye Marie Green and are in prime position to capture a win that would mean so much to their careers.

Over the last three seasons, Altomare has been one of the most consistent players on the LPGA Tour but is still looking for that breakthrough win. Since bursting onto the scene with a runner-up finish at the 2017 Evian Championship, Altomare has steadily played her way to becoming one of the elite American players. She has not missed a cut in her 21 events in 2019 and on the strength of nine top-20 finishes, she went 2-1-1 in her debut for Team USA at the Solheim Cup.

Known for her short-game prowess, Altomare co-leads the Volunteers of America Classic field in greens regulation at 75.9%. And today’s bogey at No. 14? It was her first over-par hole since the second hole of her third round at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, a streak of 84 holes.

“I just think I'm playing very consistent. All year I hit the ball really well, and like the last half of the year the putts started to go in,” said Altomare, a four-year All-American at the University of Virginia. “So I think that's really been the difference in the last half of the year.”

For Perry, a win this week would mean so much more than just a trophy. The 27-year-old from Cary, N.C., is fighting to avoid two weeks in Pinehurst at Q-Series. After starting her third LPGA season with limited status, she posted her career-best finish of T9 at the 2019 Pure Silk Championship after Monday qualifying. The good result moved her up the Priority List at the first reshuffle, but she has yet to crack the top 25 since that week in Virginia.

Now, with $73,340 in 2019 earnings and sitting 118th on the Money List, Perry is just 18 holes away from cementing her LPGA Tour future.

“I think just again, one shot at a time, one hole at a time,” said Perry, who played collegiately for the University of North Carolina. “When you get in this position, like you don't even realize what you're shooting, I feel like. Just playing one hole at a time, staying calm.”

With a win

* With the $195,000 winner’s prize, Jaye Marie Green would move to $1,441,565 in career earnings

* Green would project to move from 79th to 35th in the Race to the CME Globe; the top 60 players (and ties) in the Race will qualify for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, where the winner will take home $1.5 million, the largest single prize the history of women’s golf

* Green, Brittany Altomare, Cheyenne Knight or Katherine Perry would be the sixth Rolex First-Time Winner of the 2019 season, joining Celine Boutier, Cydney Clanton, Hannah Green, Bronte Law and Jeongeun Lee6

* Sei Young Kim would earn her third win of the season, while Jeongeun Lee6 would win for the second time

* With the $195,000 winner’s prize, Sei Young Kim would move to $7,130,526 in career earnings and become the 35th player in LPGA history to cross the $7 million threshold

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