Jaye Marie Green uses fast start to take LPGA lead

Jaye Marie Green chips to the third green during the final round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Charleston, S.C. (Mic Smith/AP)

THE COLONY, Texas — Jaye Marie Green sometimes struggles not to look too far ahead, and she had a double dose of that Saturday.

She caught herself thinking about becoming only the second player in LPGA Tour history with a 59, and winning her first tournament at the Volunteers of America Classic. By the end of the day, she was happy enough with a 7-under 64 and a one-shot lead over Cheyenne Knight.

Green started with six birdies in seven holes and eight birdies through 10 holes. She ran into a few problems down the stretch, saved herself with two big putts and wound up with her first lead going into the final round.

"When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t really realize like I only had two pars through 10 holes," Green said. "I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m like … ah, forget about it.’ If it’s my time to shoot in the 50s, it will happen. But it didn’t, and I was happy with how things went."

Cheyenne Knight, the 22-year-old Texan with plenty of support at Old American Golf Club, birdied the last hole for a 67 to get into the final group. Katherine Perry (66) and Solheim Cup player Brittany Altomare (68) were two shots behind.

Hamilton’s Alena Sharp (72) was in a tie for sixth, six shots back of Green. Brooke Henderson (72) of Smiths Falls, Ont., was tied for 24th.

None of the leading four players has won on the LPGA Tour.

For Knight and Perry, even more is at stake — full cards for next year.

Perry is No. 118 on the LPGA Tour money list, while Knight is at No. 120. Both likely need to finish in the top five to earn enough money to crack the top 100 and avoid going to the eight-round Q-Series qualifier.

There’s also that matter of winning.

Green is in her sixth year and had a great chance four months ago at the U.S. Women’s Open when she went into the final round one shot out of the lead, only to make three bogeys on the back nine for a 73 to finish three shots behind.

"At the U.S. Open what I learned was I was always picturing myself holding the trophy," Green said. "I’m like, ‘Jaye, you’re not there yet.’ So today that was coming in my mind. I was like, ‘Jaye, it’s the third round. There’s so much golf left, just stay focused.’ … I feel like I did a good job of doing that today."

She felt numb at the start with a simple plan of giving herself chances. The difference was the putts kept going in. She had a 28 on the front nine, started the back nine with a birdie and then ran into trouble late until two key putts.

Coming off back-to-back bogeys, Green’s 45-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole raced by the cup and just off the green. But she made the 25-foot putt coming back to avoid a third straight bogey, and then holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole to regain control.

She was at 14-under 199.

Knight, who grew up in Texas and had her 80-year-old grandmother in the gallery, made an 18-foot birdie putt down the slope on the final hole that broke the tie for second and put her in the final group before a home crowd. She’s from Aledo, about an hour away, close enough to get plenty of support as she goes for her first win.

"I looked at the board and saw that I needed a birdie to be in the last group," Knight said. "So, I kind of buckled down on that putt. I really saw it going in visually, and to see it go in and everyone screaming, it was awesome."

It’s a great chance for Americans — they occupy the first four spots on the leaderboard — to win for only the third time this year on the LPGA Tour.

Sei Young Kim was in fifth place, five shots behind after a 67.

This is the final full field of the year on the LPGA Tour. The top 80 on the money list have the best status, while the top 100 do not have to go the Q-Series.

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