Ally McDonald closes in on first LPGA win

Ally McDonald plays an approach to the 16th green during round three of the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship - Reynolds Lake Oconee on October 24, 2020 in Greensboro, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
Ally McDonald plays an approach to the 16th green during round three of the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship - Reynolds Lake Oconee on October 24, 2020 in Greensboro, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

GREENSBORO -- Ally McDonald is in position to win her first tournament on the LPGA Tour, but it’s not going to be as easy as it seemed early Saturday afternoon.

McDonald led by as many as four shots during the third round of the LPGA Drive On Championship – Reynolds Lake Oconee, but sputtered a bit on the way home to shoot a 3-under 69 on the Great Waters Course and watched her lead wither away.

The former Mississippi State All-American stands at 13-under 203, one shot ahead of long-hitting rookie Bianca Pagdanganan and two shots ahead of Danielle Kang, the current leader in the LPGA’s Race to CME Globe. Veteran Carlota Ciganda is three shots behind in fourth place.

This will be the first time that McDonald will enter the final round with the lead. She likes her position.

“I’m definitely in a more comfortable position knowing that what I have and me is enough,” McDonald said. “I don’t have to push and be more than I am. It’s just kind of going and trusting what I know I can do. Trying to tee it up with the best players in the world and try to play my best.”

After opening the big lead, McDonald marked time by missing a couple of greens and saving par. But a wayward shot caught up to her on the 17th hole, where a poor chip led to a bogey. She opted to lay up on the par-5 18th hole and settled for par.

“It feels good,” McDonald said. “I played some really solid golf after I kind of settled in. Made a few bad swings toward the end of the round, but I’m not going to discredit how I really did settle in and played solid golf for most of my holes.”

A bit of separation occurred at the par-4 10th hole. McDonald holed a putt from off the green for a birdie, while Kang took a three-putt bogey. The two-shot swing pushed McDonald’s lead to three shots.

That was McDonald’s third consecutive birdie. She tacked on another birdie at the 12th thanks to an approach shot that stopped a foot from the hole. The tap-in left her at 14 under and gave her a four-shot lead.

“After the third or fourth hole I was beginning to have some good looks,” McDonald said. “We’re playing a round of golf. It’s the third round. Just kind of take everything in stride.”

Kang survived a putting issue in the middle of the round to remain close to the lead. After yanking a couple of putts, she made an adjustment and rolled in a birdie at No. 13 – smiling and showing the proper arm motion to her caddie – to end a six-hole birdie-free stretch. Her approach at the 14th set up another birdie and trimmed McDonald’s lead to two strokes.

But the demonstrative Kang hit her drive out of bounds at No. 16 – it was inches over the white stakes -- and needed to make a 12-footer to save a double bogey. The veteran rebounded to birdie the 18th hole for a 70.

“I’m very frustrated today, but there was a lot of ups and downs,” Kang said. “I think I handled the curveballs pretty well. Good to finish with a birdie.”

Pagdanganan, playing in only her sixth tournament as a professional, overcame a pair of early bogeys and hung in with McDonald and Kang. But Pagdanganan had trouble on the greens and missed a pair of short birdie putts at 11 and 13. She didn’t make a birdie on the back nine until the 17th and 18th and finished with a 69.

Pagdanganan, who helped Arizona win the 2018 NCAA championship, is trying to become the first player from the Philippines to win on the LPGA Tour since Jennifer Rosales, whose two victories include the 2014 Chick-fil-A Championship at Eagle’s Landing.

Ciganda, playing in the penultimate group, followed her second-round 65 with a 68. The four-time Solheim Cup veteran is seeking her third career win, the first since 2016.

“Whatever happens, it happens,” Ciganda said. “I’m just happy to be here playing and I’ll try my best, keep the strategy clear, and try to go win this tournament.”

The low round of the day was a 65 posted by former Michigan State standout Liz Nagel. He scorecard featured seven birdies and no bogeys. Nagel, a graduate of the Symetra Tour, made her first cut of the season this week in seven tries.

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