Sarah Schmelzel, tied for lead at 2024 Ford Championship, seeks first LPGA win in home state

GILBERT, Ariz. — A variety of LPGA golfers with local ties have been making noise this week at the inaugural Ford Championship in this Phoenix suburb.

On a breezy Saturday, former Arizona State golfer Carlota Ciganda made her move up the leaderboard at Seville Golf and Country Club with a 6-under 66 a round that included two eagles and nearly a third, as her chip on the par-5 18th just missed.

“Very happy with the 6 under,” she said. “The wind is really strong. Lots of side winds, and it’s just, yeah, it’s just hard. I think if you can hit greens it’s good shots. There are some holes that are playing downhill and you can take advantage, as well as the par 5s.”

Sitting at 15 under, Ciganda already has a number in mind for Sunday, a day that is expected to be 20 degrees cooler than Saturday with a 60 percent chance of rain.

“I think you still need to get to probably 21-, 22-under to win,” she said. “Try to get to that number and hopefully that’s enough.”

Ciganda has two LPGA wins but none since 2016. Local product Sarah Schmelzel, meanwhile, is seeking her first LPGA win.

She opened with a 68, followed that up with 63 and is hanging around the top of the leaderboard after a Saturday 70. She had three back-nine birdies and just missed another on 18 that would’ve given her the solo 54-hole lead.

“Today was tough,” she told Golf Channel after her round. “It was almost like the weather was a like a bit of a distraction. It was tough out there. It was a grind to just shoot under par this afternoon.”

So far this season, Schmelzel has a T-8, a solo second and a T-8 in her last three starts. And as for making the Phoenix area this week the time and place for her first LPGA win?

“It’s definitely something I have thought about since I was a little kid,” she admitted. “It’s something that’s in the back of my mind, but I gotta stay in the present and if it works out, it works out.”

The third member of the three-way tie for the lead is Hyo Joo Kim, who birdied three of her first four holes but then stalled, stringing together 14 straight pars to shoot a 3-under 69. Kim has a major among her six wins. A win this week would give her a fourth straight season with a victory.

Two are tied for fourth, a shot back: Maja Stark, who had one of the day’s better rounds with a 6-under 66, and Yuka Saso, who overcame a four-putt double bogey on the 15th hole with birdies on Nos. 16 and 18 to get to 14 under.

On a day when the winds gusted up to 35 miles per hour, Mi Hyang Lee produced the best round, an 8-under 64, which put her into a 10-way tie for sixth at 13 under, two shots back. That huge cluster of golfers at 13 under includes Lexi Thompson, Sei Young Kim, Nelly Korda and Lydia Ko.

Hira Naveed shot 7-under 65, the second-best score on Saturday. She’s tied for 16th at 12 under with Ayaka Furue and Lilia Vu.

Despite the heavy wind, only 11 of the 75 golfers who made the cut posted over-par scores, including Peiyun Chien, who shot 65 on Friday and 76 on Saturday.

There are 34 golfers at double-digits under par through 54 holes.

In anticipation of weather Sunday, the LPGA announced that for the final round, golfers will go off split tees in groups of three. The first group will start at 9:08 a.m. local time (12:08 p.m. ET) and leaders will tee off at 11:20 a.m. local time (2:20 p.m. ET).

Live final round coverage will start on Peacock at 4:30 p.m. ET and Golf Channel will come on at 6 p.m. ET.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek