13 Sep 2020 | Professional golf |

Red hot Kirk chasing major glory

by Martin Blake

Katherine Kirk ana r3 image
Katherine Kirk shot 67 again today and is just two back. Photo: Getty

Katherine Kirk has given herself a chance of a first-ever major victory after she carded her second consecutive 67 at Rancho Mirage in the ANA Inspiration in California today.

The 38-year-old Kirk two-putted the final green for a par to post 10-under par, and she is tied-third, two shots form the lead held by Nelly Korda of the United States and Canada’s Brooke Henderson, who was the big mover on day three with a 65.

The Queenslander has played 17 seasons on the main tour but her previous best in a major was tied-second at the Women’s British Open in 2010.

Meanwhile 20-year-old amateur Gabriela Ruffels, playing alongside Kirk in the second-last group, shot a one-under par 71 to sit tied-14th, a sensational performance in just her third major. At six-under overall, she is locked in a battle for low amateur honours with China’s Rose Zhang (-8), her conquerer in the US Amateur recently.

“She’s got a ton of talent, and she’s a sweet kid, too,’’ said Kirk of her compatriot. “I said whenever she’s ready to come out here she’ll be great … great for the tour. It’s nice to play with a young gun and good to see she has a lovely personality too.’’

As for Kirk, she had six birdies and a bogey in the first 13 holes today but parred her way in from there. She plans on using her years of experience playing in the final group tomorrow.

“I’d like to think it helps a lot,” she said. “Certainly being a veteran, I’ve got a lot of good rounds under my belt and good memories. It’s going to be a nerve-racking day. I’ve just got to go out there and try and execute as best I can, kind of stick to what I’ve been doing because it’s been pretty solid so far. Don’t’ change too much.’’

Temperatures above 40 degrees are forecast, and some of the best players in the world are in the mix.

“Breathing’s the only thing you can do,” said Kirk. “Anyone who tells you that you don’t get nervous or get a higher blood pressure or higher heart rate is lying. About all you can do is stick to your routines and hope it works.”

Ruffels, who is partway through a degree at the University of Southern California, moved back to America two years ago after schooling in Australia. The family live just 20 minutes from Rancho Mirage. “It’s kind of weird. It’s really nice, though. My parents moved out two years ago, we live at Toscana Country club and all the members are rooting me on. It feels a little bit like a home tournament, so it’s awesome.”

The amateur has looked comfortable this week having previously played in a US Women’s Open and the women’s Open Championship on invitations. She won the US Amateur in 2019 and was runner-up this year. “It was great experience at the US Am, all the pressure and expectation,” she said. “I feel like I handled it pretty well, but obviously it’s a different stage. The best in the world out here. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can.”

Of the other Australians, Minjee Lee is just outside the top 20 after a 72 today but Hannah Green (74) dropped back to 53rd.

ANA Inspiration leaderboard

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