Venezuela’s Veronica Felibert celebrated her 27th birthday on Saturday by extending her lead in the LPGA’s NW Arkansas Championship to four strokes.
Felibert shot a 5-under 66 on Saturday to continue her surprisingly strong performance and stretch her lead with a round left.
She earned her position in the final pairing at Pinnacle Country Club, where she made the field as the second alternate. After missing the cuts in her previous three tournaments, Felibert opened with a 65 on Friday.
The 723rd-ranked player in the world followed that with a bogey-free round Saturday, capping the day with a par-saving putt on No. 18.
”There are feelings that I cannot express right now, because it is what I have dreamt all my life for,” Felibert said. ”It’s pretty cool to see my name up there, but at the same time I have been trying to not think too much about it and just play one shot at a time and enjoy it.
”I’m having a lot of fun.”
Mika Miyazato and Inbee Park were tied for second and will join Felibert in the final group Sunday. Miyazato had a 65 on Saturday, and Park shot a 68. Brittany Lang had a 63, the best round of the week, to top a group of five players at 6 under.
Top-ranked Yani Tseng, the two-time defending champion and a three-time winner this year, followed her opening 73 with a 74 to miss her first cut in more than a year. Tseng’s 74 was her sixth straight round over par entering next week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
As surprising as Tseng’s struggles were, so too was the continued staying power of the relatively unknown Felibert, who spent the last two seasons on the Symetra Tour and hadn’t shot better than a 71 in four previous LPGA tournaments this season.
Felibert had three top-10 finishes in two years on the Symetra Tour and never finished higher than fifth in a tournament. She has earned $2,489 this season on the LPGA Tour, thanks to a tie for 70th at the Mobile Bay Classic in April, and she’ll tee off Sunday with a chance to earn the $300,000 first-place prize.
”I’m calm. I’m relaxed, yes,” Felibert said. ”I’m nervous and excited because it’s something different, a position that I haven’t been in lately, so it’s pretty cool. But in general I’m pretty calm.”
Felibert was treated to birthday reminders from the gallery throughout her round – including on the par-3 17th and after completing her round on No. 18.
”I’ve never been sang ”Happy Birthday” that many times in a day,” Felibert said.
She needed only 29 putts and opened her round with birdies on Nos. 2, 4 and 6, but one of her best putts came on a 10-foot par save on No. 11.
Felibert made the last of her five birdies with a 20-foot putt from off the green at the par-3 15th and finished her round with three pars to enter Sunday in the unfamiliar position of leader.
Lang made the day’s biggest charge, shooting a 7-under 29 over her last nine holes and jumping from a tie for 76th to a tie for third at 6 under.
Lang was tied with Katie Futcher (67), Ai Miyazato (68), Ryann O’Toole (68) and LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng (70) at 6 under.
Local favorite and No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who attended nearby University of Arkansas, shot a 69 on Saturday and was 3 under for the tournament.
Michelle Wie, mired in a season-long slump, shot a 74 to miss the cut.