Ernst Leads Kupcho By One at Golden Ocala
Sunday, March 7, 2021
    Two players have separated themselves from the field in the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at Golden Ocala, as Austin Ernst holds a one-shot advantage over Jennifer Kupcho at 13-under par. It all sets up for a showdown today.

    “I didn’t quite have it ball striking-wise today. Hit a few good shots but then kind of sprayed a few drives and had to work a little bit harder than I have had to work the past couple days,” said Ernst, a member of Team USA at the 2017 Solheim Cup. “The chip-in on No. 9, I actually kind of chunked a pitching wedge in the fairway, then got a little lucky. I flew that one farther than I wanted to but it was accurate so it one-hopped straight in. That was fun.

    Even though Ernst wasn’t at the peak of her game on Saturday, her maturity and course management shone through, especially compared to years past. The two-time LPGA champion carded a 3-under par 69 which featured four birdies including the chip-in

    “I couldn’t have done that a few years ago. I don’t think I would have been as patient as I was today,” Ernst said. “When the wind picked up on the back nine, we had a few longer shots than we’ve had and a few pins that were a little tougher to get to. I was just trying to make as many birdies as possible to separate even more. I didn’t quite hit it close enough on the back nine after [birdie on] No. 11 to be able to do that, but to come in and have some easy pars after a few of the shots I hit, I was pretty happy with that.”

    Ernst will need to bring her A-game today with Kupcho within one at -12. The Wake Forest University graduate showcased her grit with an eagle on No. 18 to close out a 2-under 70 and signal game on to her competitor.

    “I actually was standing on the tee and was like, ‘I feel an eagle coming on,’ so it was pretty cool to do it but when I got down there in the fairway, I definitely didn’t think it would be possible to get close,” said Kupcho, who is searching for her first career victory. “I was not aiming anywhere close to where my ball went but it happened to go right at the pin and carried the water by a couple yards. I was able to make the putt. I didn’t know for sure if I could carry the water on the line I took, but I knew it would be close. I focused on the line and my caddie picked out a great spot, so focused on making a good stroke.”

    Rounding out today’s final grouping is 2020/21 rookie Albane Valenzuela. She is 7 under and tied for third with Jenny Coleman and fellow rookie Patty Tavatanakit.

    LPGA Drive On Championship—Inverness winner Danielle Kang will complete the penultimate grouping with Coleman and Tavatanakit. She carded a bogey-free 69 and sit
s in a tie for sixth at 5-under par with Carlota Ciganda. 

    With a victory, Ernst would earn her third career LPGA Tour title and first since the 2020 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She would capture her first title after holding the 36-hole lead in a tournament; it would also be her second win when holding the 54-hole lead (the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship is a 54-hole event).

    The $225,000 winner’s check would slide Ernst over the $4 million threshold in career earnings with $4,127,272. Kupcho would surpass the $1 million threshold in career earnings at $1,153,180 in her third year on Tour.

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