For much of the day Saturday at the ANA Inspiration, it was impossible not to expect Canadian flags to start waving from homes at Mission Hills Country Club or to hear the cheers of “Brooke! Brooke! Brooke!”
But the irony of Canadian star Brooke Henderson’s run up the leaderboard at the ANA Inspiration, a tournament where she is wildly popular, is that no spectators were on the golf course and most if not all of the Canadian snowbirds who live in the desert and root for Henderson aren’t present to support their favorite golfer this year.
“It’s definitely really noticeable,” Henderson said after a 7-under 65 that gave her a share of the 54-hole lead in the LPGA major championship. “But the thing about this place is there’s so much tradition and history here, it’s really special. Even without the fans that we miss a lot, it’s still a great place to be.”
LEADERBOARD: ANA Inspiration
Whether the Canadian fans are back in their home country avoiding the 100-degree temperatures of a desert summer or stuck at home in the desert not able to be on the spectator-less course, they certainly were cheering for Henderson’s best run at the ANA title.
A quick start featuring an eagle on the par-5 second hole and four more birdies on the front nine allowed Henderson to reach 12-under 204. She is tied with Nelly Korda entering the final round of the 49th tournament on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.
Korda, who held sole possession of the lead after the first and second rounds, stumbled early Saturday with a double bogey on the par-4 sixth hole but rallied on the back nine for a 71 to maintain a share of the lead.
Korda and Henderson will tee off with Katherine Kirk on Sunday in the chase for the major title. Kirk is one of three players at 10-under par, having shot 67 on a hot but windless day at Mission Hills on Saturday. Also at 10 under are 2014 ANA Inspiration winner Lexi Thompson, who shot 69 on Saturday, and South Korea’s Mirim Lee, who shot a 71 while looking for her first major win.
Scoring pace slows down
After two days of relatively low scoring on the Shore course with Korda reaching 11 under through 36 holes, the players chasing Korda continued to make birdies and eagles early in the third round.
Korda let those players see the top of the leaderboard when she bogeyed the par-3 fifth hole, then dumped her second shot in the lake in front of the green on the par-4 sixth hole on the way to a double bogey. That dropped Korda back to 9 under, while Henderson was completing a 6-under 30 on the front nine to take the lead.
“I actually missed a short birdie putt on 1, so I was a little bit upset about that,” Henderson said. “I thought I could have a nice eagle opportunity on 2 if I hit a good drive and second, which I was able to do. I just had about maybe 12, 15 feet for eagle and was able to make it.”
Henderson followed that with four more birdies on the front nine, including a birdie on the par-5 ninth just as Korda was making her double bogey.
“You always have to take some time to cool down and process everything, but there’s still so much time, or so much golf to be played,” Korda said of rebounding from the double bogey. “So I mean, I was just thinking one shot at a time.”
While other players slowed down the scoring barrage on the back nine – Henderson had two birdies but one bogey on the closing nine – Korda moved back up the leader board with birdies on the 11th, 12th and 15th holes.
Lee grabbed a share of the lead with Henderson on the back nine, but consecutive bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes dropped her back. Thompson reached 11 under through the front nine, but bogeyed the 10th hole. She then made eight consecutive pars, including a scrambling par at the 13th and a par on the 18th hole where she was one of the few golfers to reach the island green in two from the 525-yard tees for the day.
Beating the desert heat
Korda’s back-nine run came as the temperature in the desert was hitting its highest point of the day, creeping over 100 degrees. But Korda said she didn’t mind the heat too much.
“I’ve been actually very impressed with myself. I’m drinking a lot of water out here. Mixing a little Gatorade in it, though,” she said.
Like Lee and Kirk, Korda will be looking for her first major championship Sunday, while Henderson and Thompson will each be trying for a second major title. Thompson is looking for a second win at Mission Hills.
“There are some leaderboards out there on the back, and I did take a quick glance a few times,” said Kirk after her 67. “But this golf course is not easy, and you have to hit fairways to have a chance, really, of making any birdies. That was the quickest way to get me back into the game plan and focus was to realize, hey, I’ve got tough shots ahead of me. I’ve got to go hit good shots and forget about the leaderboard and just go play golf.”
All the contenders will finish the tournament on the 18th hole without the event’s typical closing atmosphere, though there will still be a leap into Poppie’s Pond by the winner.
“It’s probably most noticeable walking up 18, having the fans there for high-fives and their support coming down the stretch,” Henderson said. “Like you said, it’s still a great place, and it’s still a lot of fun to be here.”
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at Sun.@Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.