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A new putter, some work with the driver and a mental reset proved to be just the right combination Saturday for Lizette Salas.
And it could lead her to a place she hasn’t been in seven years.
Salas fired a 7-under 64 to move squarely into contention in the third round of the LPGA Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill Resort.
Moriya Jutanugarn and Wei-Ling Hsu both shot 65s to emerge in a tie for the lead at 10 under, two strokes ahead of Salas and Sarah Kemp, heading into Sunday’s final round. Jutanugarn, a 26-year-old from Thailand, seeks her second Tour victory. The 26-year-old Hsu, who is from Taiwan, is after her first.
Jessica Korda shot 67 to move to 9 under for the tournament and sits alone in second place.
Salas, a 31-year-old former University of Southern California star, collected her only Tour win at Kingsmill in 2014 as a third-year pro.
On Saturday, she used eight birdies, including five in a six-hole stretch on the front side, to get back into the weekend championship conversation.
With last week off, Salas tinkered with a Ping center-shafted putter for the first time and fell in love. She worked on getting more roll off the tee so she could use shorter irons.
And she re-embraced the site of her best Tour moment and the people who witnessed it.
Turns out it’s helped to see galleries for the first time all season, even if they are limited to 5,000 this week.
“Starting to see more fans out, it just kind of gives that you extra momentum to keep pushing,” Salas said. “Most of these fans did see me win in 2014, so they’re all pulling for me, and that gives me motivation to keep going.”
Jutanugarn had a chance to take the outright lead, but her 6-footer on 18 lipped out and left her tied with Hsu.
Hsu, who had sole possession of the lead after the first round, shot 71 on Friday.
“You know, I was little nervous (Friday on) the front nine, and so I try to learn from that and see if I can do better today,” Hsu said.
Did she ever. She reeled off consecutive birdies on holes 3 through 7 to grab a share of the lead, though she soon lost it when she three-putted from 20 feet on 9.
Salas, meanwhile, was rolling along on a course she knows well. She won by four strokes in 2014, though she’s not thinking about that now.
“Just came in with some new toys and was excited to be back, excited for the fans to be out watching, and I didn’t really pay attention on what I did in the past,” Salas said. “That was a long time ago, and I think I’m a new player and I came with a new agenda.”
Salas, though, did not have the low round of the day. That distinction went to Giulia Molinaro, a 30-year-old Italian who birdied six holes and eagled the par-four 12th when she holed a 9-iron from 144 yards en route to a bogey-free 63.
The shot on 12 exceeded Molinaro’s expectations.
“It was a good, normal 9-iron, and as soon as I hit it, I knew it was going to be good,” she said. “But I just was hoping for a tap-in birdie, and it disappeared. So it was great.”
Course officials, as they often do, moved the tee box substantially forward on the par-four 18th.
The hole, which has water down the left side, a narrow fairway and a small green protected by bunkers, could be conquered with a 246-yard tee shot to the front edge of the green.
“It’s not an easy shot, to be honest,” said former UCLA star Ryann O’Toole, who shot 66 to move into a three-way tie for sixth at 7 under.
“It’s a fun, challenging hole. Risk-reward for sure. It changes it up. I think crowds like it.”
Lauren Stephenson, after three-putting the par-3 17th, rolled in a 39-footer for eagle at 18 to finish off a round of 67 that put her in a three-way tie at 7 under.
Kemp, a 35-year old Australian who has never won in 14 years on Tour, was asked whether she’s better equipped to handle a shot at her first victory than she might’ve been a decade earlier.
“I’m a better player, but I’m in a better mental space,” she said. “My life is very different to when I was 25, and no matter what happens tomorrow, if I had 90 or I shot 65, life is great. You know, like it’s not going to change how happy I am in life and how everything — however — my family is healthy. You know, life is just good.”
Kemp has five career top-10 finishes and has earned more than $900,000.
David Hall, email@example.com