Four tied atop Farr leaderboard
For the lead groups, the final round of the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic will be just like a friendly round back home in South Korea.
Oh, and give the winner a check for $195,000.
South Koreans Jiyai Shin, Kim, So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo dominated the leaderboard, sharing the top spot at 11-under 202 on Saturday through the third round.
Two more South Koreans, Inbee Park (69) and second-round leader Chella Choi (70), were a shot back along with Japan’s Mika Miyazato (69).
Call them the Seoul sisters.
"It will be really exciting Sunday," said Kim, who will be chasing her fourth career LPGA Tour victory. "These are players that I grew up with. I know them personally and I know their family issues and all that. So, even though we’re playing in the US, having them around I feel much more at home."
South Koreans have not only flooded (43 of them on the roster this year) but also dominated the LPGA Tour in recent years. Still, they have seldom taken over a tournament like the one at Highland Meadows. In addition to filling the top four spots and six of the top seven, South Korea was represented by players occupying seven of the top 11 positions and 11 of the top 25 through 54 holes.
Even though they are extremely competitive, don’t expect any gamesmanship.
"There are a lot of Korean players on tour," said Shin, who has won eight times in LPGA events since 2008, including victories in the 2010 US Women’s Open and the 2008 Women’s British Open. "We are very close because we came over to play in the US. We were homesick, missing our friends and family in Korea. And that has made us close to each other."
Shin and Kim each shot 5-under 66 for the low rounds of the day, while Ryu had a 67 and Seo a 68.
The range in scores of the four leaders is a high of 69 to a low of 66. In other words, almost the perfect definition of consistency.
Ryu acknowledged that, then added, "Sometimes someone is crazy and has a low score — like a 61 or 62."
It’s not really surprising that the South Korean contingent is elbowing everyone else out of the picture at the Jamie Farr. After all, the player who is the matriarch of her country’s players on the LPGA Tour — Se Ri Pak — has won the Farr five times. And three other players from South Korea — Mi Hyun Kim, Eunjung Yi and Na Yeon Choi — also have finished first in suburban Toledo.
In fact, since Pak won her first Farr in 1998, South Koreans have walked off with the title eight of the 13 years.
Shin was perhaps the brightest star on the LPGA landscape but has not won in two years due to injuries.
"It’s as if I’m on my way," she said after her 66. "I have a little bit of pressure on myself."
Kim, who has three career LPGA Tour wins, lost to Choi in a four-person playoff at the Farr the last time it was played in 2010 (the tournament was on hiatus a year ago while the city hosted the men’s US Senior Open).
"I’m in a great place, not only on the golf course," she said. "I’m happy on and off the course. That’s really important."
Seo was the tour’s rookie of the year in 2011. She took a stab at making a humorous remark at the awards ceremony.
"Everybody wants to be No. 1," she said. "I just mentioned that I’ll be No. 1 very soon."
Tied for eighth at 8-under 205 were Americans Jacqui Concolino (69) and Angela Stanford (69), along with first-round leader Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden (70) and yet another South Korean, Hee-Won Han (70).
Needless to say, all eyes will be on the intrasquad scrimmage atop the leaderboard between the longtime friends, neighbors and countrywomen.
"We pretty much help each other," said Ryu, who defeated Seo in a three-hole playoff at the 2011 US Women’s Open to earn her first and only tour victory. "If some Koreans have a winning chance, everybody will be waiting on the 18th green and everybody will congratulate the winner. Our relationship is pretty great."