Charley Hull acknowledges the odds are stacked against winning her first major in France on Sunday, but on a layout where low scoring is eminently feasible, the Englishwoman is not about to give up on the mission of overhauling Brooke Henderson.
On 11-under after a third-round 67 in the Evian Championship, Hull is six behind but there are only four other golfers between the 26-year-old and the Canadian pacesetter.
Henderson is in rude form after following up a pair of 64s with a gutsy 68, but the quirky nature of the Evian Resort course overlooking Lake Geneva lends itself to a fluctuating and volatile leaderboard and Hull still harbours the dream of a title that many consider her birthright.
“Brooke is obviously playing very well, but I just need to keep patient,” Hull said. “Anything can happen around this golf course, so I must just keep on making birdies. There are plenty of opportunities out there and obviously a few more eagles like on the 11th today would help.”
Hull, the world No 38, was 98 yards from the pin on the par-four when holing out with a sand-wedge. “I just hit a full shot a little bit right of the pin and it span off the slope,” she said. "I wasn't quite sure whether it went in and although the crowd was going mad I just didn't want to celebrate and then get up there and discover it was actually a couple of feet away. Thankfully, the ball wasn’t visible when I got to the green and it was a nice feeling.”
The Kettering golfer has recorded three top-sixes in the majors since bursting onto the scene as a teenager, with her best finish a tie for second at the Chevron Championship - better known as the Dinah Shore - in Palm Springs seven years ago. However, Hull's most notable effort at the Evian prior to this week was a tie for 22nd four years ago.
“I don't know why, but I feel relaxed here this week,” Hull said. “The way the course is playing kind of suits me. I like it. I'm just in a good headspace at the minute.”
Henderson looks steely-eyed as she aims for her second major, having lifted the Women’s PGA title in 2016. The 24-year-old never reached the heights of her first two rounds when she raced to 14-under and into a three-shot lead over American Nelly Korda - the world No 3 only managing a level par 71 on Saturday to fall back into a tie for sixth with Hull and world No 1 Jin Young Ko - but that was to be expected with the pressure on.
Henderson made several crucial putts for par and is two clear of the Korean double major-winner Ryu So-yeon, with American rookie Sophia Schubert two further back in third.
Day two: Korda storms into contention on just her fourth start since blood clot
Three months ago, Nelly Korda was in hospital for emergency surgery to remove a blood clot in her left arm. Zoom forwards and the 23-year-old is in contention on a major leaderboard, looking primed to complete a remarkable comeback.
A second-round 67 took Korda to 11-under and into second, three behind pacesetter Brooke Henderson. But far from feeling the pressure of expectation, Korda, the world No 3, is simply pleased to be at the Evian Championship.
“I definitely had to reassess everything,” the American said, reflecting on that worrying time that led to a three-month recuperation period out of the game.
“I wasn't even sure when I would come back obviously after everything that happened I'm just happy I'm here. I played some solid golf and worked hard since I've been able to play.
“I go into every event wanting to contend, wanting to win. I know that a lot of girls have a lot more rounds under their belts, and I just appreciate every round that I have got to play this year.”
This is only Korda’s fourth event since being given a green light by the medics and three of them have been majors. The Olympic champion’s tie for eighth at last month’s US Open was an immense effort for a golfer with so much rust and she followed up that Pine Needles effort with a second at the LPGA Classic and then a tie for 30th at the Women’s PGA.
There were concerns in some quarters about Korda flying across the Atlantic with her condition, but she confirmed that the fretting is all in the past. “I’m back to 100 per cent,” she said. “Still have to wear the compression sleeve, but it's okay.”
Instead at the Evian Resort overlooking Lake Geneva she has been plagued by a rather more common complaint. “It’s the jetlag,” Korda said. “I barely slept last night and really need a nap. I was so tired out there.”
Her golf showed hints of slouchiness as she parred the first 10 holes but then sprang into action with three birdies in the next seven. The best was kept until last, however, with Korda’s eagle up the 18th exemplifying her class. A booming drive of almost 300 yards left her 192 yards and courtesy of her hybrid she conjured an approach to 2ft for a kick-in three.
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“It wasn't really sitting that great in the first cut - kind of sitting a little down - and I didn't really want to crush a five iron,” she said. “It was a nice way to finish a fun day. You know I appreciate it a lot more being here. After being out for so long, I feel like your appreciation for being able to travel and play golf grows a little bit more. So I am refreshed yes, apart from the jetlag. Of course I’d love to win this event but my No 1 goal is to stay healthy and happy. I’m keeping it simple.”
Henderson will be a tough nut to crack. The 24-year-old from Canada stunned the game when prevailing at the Women’s PGA as an 18-year-old and, six years on, a second major title is probably overdue for this proven LPGA Tour winner. Certainly Henderson’s 64 was the form of a champion, featuring eight birdies and just one bogey.
“To get it this far under par is really awesome,” she said. “The putter has been hot for me the last couple months, and it's a great feeling. I've been having a lot of crepes here in France, so I think maybe to keep the momentum going I better have some more.”
Charley Hull is the top-placed Briton in France, in a tie for 11th on seven-under after a 69.
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy has spread some much-needed cheer through the DP World Tour by committing to appear at the BMW PGA Championship in September. The world No 3 has not played in his home circuit’s flagship event in three years.
Day one: Pub gardens in British heatwave prove perfect prep for 'chilled' Hull
Pub gardens, long walks and remarkably few golf holes… this was Charley Hull’s preparations for the penultimate major of the season. And the Englishwoman duly proved that playing fresh can have its advantages when posting a fine opening 66 at the Evian Championship.
On five-under, Hull, the 26-year-old from Kettering is three behind pacesetter Ayaka Furue and after relaxing in Britain’s heatwave, feels, as she put it, "really chilled". There were six birdies and the solitary bogey at the Evian Resort Club, overlooking Lake Geneva, to help her mood.
"I haven’t played competitively in three weeks but think you need to get out of the grind every now and again, even in the meat of the season," she said. "The sun has been out at home and it was time to visit pub gardens and go on long walks. I practised every day, but hardly went on the golf course itself. It was about getting my head together and getting really chilled."
In truth, Hall has always been laid back, managing to harbour a blessedly relaxed attitude even when the experts have been urgently declaring that this former girl wonder has yet to fulfill her huge potential.
Hull, the world No 38, has six major top 10s to her name, but interestingly none in the French major. Granted, it is a quirky layout and may not be considered ideal for such a quality ball-striker. Yet she believes that she should have done better in nine previous Evian appearances than a best finish of tied 22nd.
"When I was younger, the course I played on was pretty much as slopey as this on the fairways," she said. "So I'm quite lucky that I don't have to think too much about adjusting. I've always just automatically adjusted. I don't know, I find it tricky to score around here, but maybe after nine years I’m figuring it out. Hopefully, I’ll just post three more scores like this and stay patient."
It is a quality leaderboard as the best players in the game enjoyed the first event in a Europe run, talking in next week’s Scottish Open and then the Women’s Open at Muirfield.
American Nelly Korda is in a tie for second with Canadian Brooke Henderson, one behind the Japanese Furue. Korda, 23, has played well since returning last month from a three-month break after recovering from a hugely-concerning blood clot in her arm.
After coming eighth in the US Women’s Open, her comeback event, Korda showed further signs of nearing her peak form with a bogeyless beginning in glorious conditions. World No 1 Jin Young Ko is on the same mark as Hull, as is Kiwi Lydia Ko.