RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Patty Tavatanakit opened a five-stroke lead on another hot and windy afternoon at the ANA Inspiration, all but crushing her challengers’ hopes with a striking combination of power and touch.
A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, the 21-year-old Thai player shot a 5-under 67 in 100-degree heat Saturday to reach 14-under 202 at Mission Hills in the first major championship of the year.
“I’m fine in the heat,” Tavatanakit said. “I grew up in this in Thailand.”
She matched the tournament 54-hole record set by Pernilla Lindberg in her 2018 victory. Dottie Pepper set the overall mark of 19 under in 1999.
“Today, I’m going to leave it behind,” Tavatanakit said. “It’s a great day, acknowledged it, and it’s in the past now. All I can think about is what can I do tomorrow, what can I improve from today’s round.”
Defending champion Mirim Lee and Ally Ewing were second at 9 under in the event being played without spectators for the second time in seven months.
Tavatanakit crushed drives — hitting a 337-yarder on the par-5 11th — and was equally as effective on and around the greens.
“I’ve hit it the farthest I’ve ever hit here,” Tavatanakit said. “It’s a little strange to have a lob wedge in on the first hole.”
The former UCLA star is trying to become the sixth straight international winner in the tournament celebrating its 50th edition. She won seven times in two seasons at UCLA and had three Symetra Tour victories in 2019.
“Keep on the pedal,” Tavatanakit said. “I play aggressive when I can be and you got to play smart golf. It’s a major championship. Pins are tough, tough conditions. You got to have the things you need to go out and execute and embrace all the challenges.”
She birdied the first three holes, holing a 20-footer on the par-4 third.
“It’s always nice to have a good start to feel a little bit more comfortable throughout the day,” Tavatanakit said. “I was hitting it really well. I’m putting so well right now. Just really pleased with how everything played out.”
She holed a 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 ninth after hitting her second into a greenside bunker, and made a 15-footer on 11 to open a five-stroke lead.
After a series of par saves, she couldn’t get a 4-footer to drop on the par-4 12th. She rebounded with a wedge to 4 feet for a birdie on the par-4 13th, and made an 8-footer on the par-4 15th.
Tavatanakit bogeyed the par-3 17th, failing to get up-and-down from a difficult lie in a greenside bunker. She escaped the par-5 18th with a par after her third shot spun off the front of the green to the edge of the water.
“I was getting a little tired at the end,” Tavatanakit said.
Lee shot a 68, wearing a facemask while she played. The South Korean player won the postponed event in September for her first major title.
“It just tough today,” Lee said. “Weather is little hotter than yesterday and then course was difficult today. It’s windy and then little firmer. I made good score.”
Ewing had a bogey-free 66. The American won last year at Reynolds Lake Oconee for her first tour title, playing then under her maiden name of McDonald.
“I was as able to get off to a really good start with three birdies to start the day,” Ewing said. “Then I just kept giving myself a lot of looks.”
Shanshan Feng, a stroke behind playing partner Tavatanakit entering the round, was 8 under after a 72. The Chinese star is making her first start after sitting out 16 months because of the coronavirus pandemic and a visa delay.
“I’m so happy to be paired with Patty today,” Feng said. “She’s an amazing player. … It was hard to keep up with her, but I think I still gave my best.”
Inbee Park and Charley Hull were 7 under.
Park shot a 70. The 2013 winner at Mission Hills, she won last week in her first start of the year.
“Heat always gets me,” Park said. “I’m not a hot weather person, so it’s definitely a hard couple days for me. Just one more day left.”
Hull had a triple bogey on No. 3 and a closing bogey in a 71.
Americans Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis were undone by big numbers.
Lewis played the first 13 holes in 8 under, then made a triple bogey on 14 in a 67 that left her 4 under. Thompson finished with a quadruple-bogey 9 for a 75 to fall to 1 over. The 2014 winner had a triple bogey on No. 3.
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