all scores

Jennifer Kupcho’s record-setting round sets up championship chase

Kupcho waves to the crowd after holing one of her nine birdies on Saturday. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The 51st and final edition of the Chevron Championship at the Dinah Shore course started with a celebration of the end of the longest-running women’s major.

Jennifer Kupcho shot an eight-under 64 on Saturday, setting the 54-hole tournament scoring record to take a six-stroke lead and sit 18 holes away from her coronation as a major champion.

“Everything was working,” Kupcho said, “I mean seriously, this week I think my putting is definitely the props. I have putted really well, and you got to make putts in a major championship.”

After watching the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in the morning to keep her mind off of what was ahead of her, Kupcho scorched the Coachella Valley. She birdied the second and third holes to move into a three-way tie for the lead at 10-under par alongside Patty Tavatanakit and 36-hole leader Hinako Shibuno. From there, the rout was on.

Kupcho birdied the fourth and fifth holes to make it four birdies in a row, with her 10-foot putt on the sixth narrowly sliding by the low side of the cup and keeping her from extending the streak to five.

Kupcho posted a five-under 31 on the front nine, giving a quick wave to the fans after dropping an eight-footer on the eighth for birdie.

The 2019 August National Women’s Amateur champion continued to pour it on from there, birdieing three in a row on the back nine to pull away at 16-under and threaten the tournament-record 62 Lydia Ko set in the final round last year.

Kupcho carded a birdie, a bogey and four pars the rest of the way to sign her card. The 24-year-old’s 200 total strokes earned her the 54-hole scoring record and bested the previous record of 202 set by Tavatanakit (2021) and Pernilla Lindberg (2018).

Kupcho couldn’t quite pinpoint where this round ranks among her all-time best, but she credited her mental game and her putting for helping her make history.

“It’s all a blur,” Kupcho said, “You’re just out there grinding shot by shot. I think that’s one thing I’ve really done well this week, is taking it shot by shot and not thinking about the end result.”

Instead of sports, Kupcho plans to watch “Bridgerton” ahead of her Sunday afternoon tee time. If she polishes off the victory Sunday, she will become the first American to win the Chevron Championship since Brittany Lincicome in 2015.

Tavatanakit, the defending Chevron champion, sits in second at 10-under par, a bit of a disappointment given how she started the day. The Thai native hit two birdies on the first two holes to get to 10-under with 16 to play. She struggled to maintain her momentum from there, carding three bogeys to fall to six back of the lead.

Tavatanakit will need a near historic comeback to reenter the winner’s circle Sunday. The most strokes a player has overcome to win the Chevron Championship was seven in 2006, when Karrie Webb, the Australian Hall of Famer, holed out for eagle on the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Lorena Ochoa.

Tavatanakit said she was up for the challenge.

“I like chasing,” Tavatanakit said, “Better feeling. You play without fear, and I love doing that.”

If Tavatanakit were to pull it off, she would be the first golfer to defend her title at the Chevron Championship since Annika Sorenstam in 2001 and ’02.

Entering Sunday, Jessica Korda is the only other player within seven strokes of Kupcho. The 29-year-old’s five-under 67 came from a clean front nine, where she went bogey-free for four-under par.

A six-time LPGA winner, Korda has the most victories on tour for a player without a major championship on her resume. Despite the drought, Korda has learned from experience that there is always a chance. She need look no further than last year, when Ko cut into Tavanakit’s 54-hole lead with a final-round 62.

“I was three-over through, like, seven on the first day,” Korda said. “I’m never out of it.”

Shibuno, the leader after 36 holes, said she felt nervous at the start of her third round, especially on her drives and approach shots. The 2019 AIG Women’s Open Champion shot a five-over par 77 on Saturday and sits four-under entering the final round.

“My shots were left, right, to the left,” Shibuno said through her translator. “Tough day today.”

The day concluded with the sun setting over the looming San Jacinto Mountains, giving off purple and yellow hues one last time at the Chevron Championship.

From the LPGA’s 51-year history at the course, the players will remember the swaying palm trees, the burning desert heat and the roars of crowds. And whoever comes out on top Sunday will walk away with their name etched into the final slot of the tournament record books at Dinah Shore.

“I mean, just to be out here, I love this place,” Kupcho said. “I love stepping on this property. You just get positive vibes. It’s such a beautiful course, so I think I’m just taking it all in.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.