By JOHN NICHOLSON – AP Sportswriter
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Jennifer Kupcho started fast and moved on Saturday in the Chevron Championship to take a six-shot lead in the Major Championship in the last round all-time at Mission Hills.
Kupcho shot an 8-under 64 for a tournament record 16-under 200 overall on another hot and sunny afternoon in the Coachella Valley.
“Everything worked,” said Kupcho. “I mean, seriously, this week I think my putting is definitely the props. I was putting really well, and you have to be making putts in a big championship.”
Defending champion Patty Tavatanakit, who played alongside Kupcho in the penultimate group, finished second after a 70. The Thai player declined to comment after the round.
Kupcho positioned herself to win for the first time on the LPGA Tour and take the final winning leap at Poppie’s Pond, three years after missing out on a spot in the event to play at this week’s inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur and to win. She watched the Augusta event ahead of her late start time on Saturday.
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“That was pretty cool and just brings back these good memories,” Kupcho said. “I don’t know if that was positive vibes, but I definitely checked it out. I think it helped take my mind off this tournament.”
The event, which began as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle in 1972 and became a major in 1983, is relocating to Houston after failing to find a sponsor willing to host it in historic Mission Hills.
Kupcho fucked eight of the first 12 holes in mostly calm conditions. After a first par, the 24-year-old former Wake Forest star from Colorado screwed the next four. She added a birdie on No. 8 and opened the back nine with three straight birdies.
“To be honest, it’s all a blur,” Kupcho said. “I mean, I hit the fairways, hit the greens and really just tried to make smooth putts on them. I did, and they fell.”
Tavatanakit seemed poised to take the lead on the par-5 11 when she hit her 256-yard second from 6 ft while Kupcho went in two in the left green bunker. But Tavatanakit missed the eagle putt and Kupcho hopped to the birdie and holed a 6-foot that equaled Tavatanakit.
Both players bogeyed the par-4 13, and Kupcho extended the lead to a seven on the par-3 17 when she made a 10-foot birdie putt and Tavatanakit bogeyed the hole. Tavatanakit retrieved one with a birdie on the par-5 18th.
Kupcho broke the 54-hole record of 14 holes set by Pernilla Lindberg in 2018 and surpassed by Tavatanakit last year. Dottie Pepper hit the 72 hole mark of 19 under 269 in 1999.
Kupcho also hit her lowest tour score, hitting all but one fairway and three greens by regulation on the tree-lined layout.
“It’s really special just being out here,” Kupcho said. “I love this place. I love walking on lots. You just get positive vibes. It’s such a beautiful course so I think I just have to take it all in. But then again, it’s only time to hit a shot and focus on that shot.”
Jessica Korda finished third with 9 under after a 67.
“They bake out these greens, so it’s really difficult and you have to keep figuring out where to land it and how much it could roll out,” Korda said. “It plays a pretty big role, especially with some of these cones.”
Annie Park scored a 73 to drop to 7 under.
Lexi Thompson, the 2014 champion, had a 71, trailing Brooke Henderson (67), Hannah Green (68), Gabriela Ruffels (71), Hyo Joo Kim (73) and Nanna Koerstz Madsen (72) at 6.
“Score wise obviously I have to go out like the lights but honestly overall I’m enjoying every single step to be the last lap here,” Thompson said. “Hopefully they can get another event here.”
Koerstz Madsen has one playoff win and one loss in her last two starts. She beat Xiyu Lin in Thailand three weeks ago to become the first Danish winner in LPGA Tour history. Last week she lost to Atthaya Thitikul in Carlsbad.
Round two leader Hinako Shibuno had a 77 to drop 12 shots behind.
Top-seeker Jin Young Ko, the 2019 winner, was even tied after a 74.
Brooke Seay, the Stanford junior who turned down a spot at Augusta to play the final event at Mission Hills, was the only one of the four amateurs in the field to make the cut. She was 1 over after 75.
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