Ha Na Jang smiles as she walks between holes during the third round of the Marathon Classic. Blade/Katie Rausch
It will be South Korea’s version of Ohio State versus Michigan today when Seoul residents and LPGA rookies Ha Na Jang and Q Baek tee off for the final round of the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows.
Today’s battle will be a continuation of their own 10-year war, something Woody and Bo would certainly understand.
Jang, who has led after each of the first three rounds at the Sylvania course, enters at 11-under-par after shooting a 2-under 69 Saturday.
That puts her one shot ahead of Baek — her homeland and hometown rival for the past decade — who shot a third-round 68.
“I played Q Baek in Korea like every day,” Jang said. “[But] I don't want to think about a player. I don't like watching the scoreboard. My target is 15-under.”
It will be difficult for the players not to pay attention to each other’s game today. Jang, Baek, and fellow South Korean Chella Choi, who is at 9-under, are set to tee off together at 9:01 a.m. on No. 1.
In an effort to dodge expected mid or late-afternoon thunderstorms, final-round play will begin at 7 a.m. with the field again using threesomes and starting off both the No. 1 and No. 10 tees.
The goal is to complete the tournament by 2 p.m.
Choi shot the lowest third-round score Saturday with a 6-under 65.
“We played against each other a lot,” Baek said of Jang. “We grew up playing for Korea as well, for the national team, so about 10 years I played against her. We have a pretty good friendship.
“I’m just one shot behind Ha Na, and the main focus for [today] is to keep my temper down and try to stay calm and play the best golf as I can.”
Jang and Baek cannot afford to let their personal duel disrupt their attention to the course, as there is a host of contenders looming large in the rearview mirror.
Five players are tied at 9-under-par, four at 8-under, four more at 7-under, and another seven in reasonable contention at 6-under. That puts 24 players within five strokes of the lead on a final day that promises to bring plenty of drama. The third round saw 35 of the 71 players shoot rounds in the 60s.
Thanks to her sizzling finish, Choi is one of those prime contenders.
“My play was really good before No. 18,” Choi said of her solid round, which included birdies on Nos. 15, 17, and 18. “I made birdie on No. 17, so I had confidence and I tried for one more birdie.”
The group at 9-under includes the LPGA’s top-ranked player and fellow Seoul sister Inbee Park, who shot a 4-under 67 Saturday.
“I know them actually really well,” Park said of Jang and Baek. “Q is one of my best friends out here. We have the same management company. I really know their game. They're of course young and talented players. I’m looking forward to seeing them a lot more often.”
Saturday was, fittingly, a marathon of a day.
It began at 7:30 a.m. with 54 players on the course finishing their second rounds. After the cut, the third round started at 10:15, and play was interrupted for nearly two hours (between 1:51 and 3:50 p.m.) by afternoon thunderstorms.
Joining Choi and Park at 9-under are defending Marathon Classic champion Lydia Ko from New Zealand, Austin Ernst of the U.S., and Shanshan Feng of China.
“Today, a couple more putts dropped,” Ko said of pulling back toward the top of the leader board after an opening round 71. “I’ve been hitting it pretty solid, so I’ve been trying to give myself a lot of opportunities. The only difference is I holed a couple more than the first day.
“It’s great to be back. I was a couple shots back [entering final round] last year too. I don’t mind the position I’m in right now. It’s great to come back to a course you’ve played well at.”
Ko shot 67 Saturday after a 66 on Friday.
Ernst shook off a double-bogey on her final hole on Friday to fire a 5-under 66 Saturday.
“I just made a bad swing and a bad putt,” Ernst said of her Friday finish, “but other than that I played really solid round golf. I played 17 really good holes.
“So, really, the last two days that's the only blemish on the card. I know I’m hitting it well. I just need to make a few putts. When I made the one on No. 7, I got a little bit of confidence with that and made a few more as the day progressed.”
Clumped together at 8-under are Americans Brittany Lang and Angela Stanford, Canadian Alena Sharp, and Dewi Claire Schreefel from The Netherlands.
“That was awesome to finish like that,” Lang said. “I’ve been hitting it and rolling it, and I’ve been playing really good. I played good at the [U.S. Womens] Open.
“I’ve been rolling it good and finally got a few to drop. And, I started hitting my irons better.”
Tied at 7-under are Hyo Joo Kim of South Korea, Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand, Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa, and Sarak Kemp of Australia.
Pace vaulted into her spot by closing her round with an eagle of the par-5 18th hole.