Patty Tavatanakit on brink of stunning win, Inbee chases: Final round preview of the ANA Inspiration

The Thai player is closing in on victory and would become the fourth huge-priced winner in the last five LPGA Major Championships.

Thailand's Patty Tavatanakit, a three-time winner on the second tier Symetra Tour in 2019, but a player who struggled on the main stage last year, is on the brink of winning the first Major Championship of 2021.

The 21-year-old has utterly dominated the first three days of the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club.

Her third round 5-under-par 67 left her on 14-under 202 through 54 holes and she leads the field by an astounding five strokes.

She recorded just one top 20 finish in 2020, but has already doubled that total in three starts this season and is now on the brink of a stunning breakthrough.

Her assurance in the third round was as remarkable as it has been unexpected.

On the front nine she completed four birdies, yet was almost as impressive when draining lengthy putts to save par.

After the turn she made two bogeys, but fired three more par breakers to atone for the errors.

Only late on was there a sniff of anxiety and it will be something the chasers hold on to as they dream of catching her: Tavatanakit dropped a shot at the par-3 17th and came inches short of finding water on the par-5 18th.

Otherwise, she has left a world class field floundering and may take strength from the knowledge that the women's game has witnessed a series of shock Major winners since the return from lockdown.

Tavatanakit's nearest challengers are the defending champion Mirim Lee and American Ally Ewing, who posted 68 and 66 respectively to reach 9-under 207.

China's Shanshan Feng is alone in fourth on 8-under, trailed by last week's winner Inbee Park and England's Charley Hull in a tie for fifth on 7-under.

The youngster is 4/11 with Paddy Power to complete the win.

It's a very short price so does it provide value elsewhere and what is the history of leaders in such positions of dominance?

Let's take a closer look.

Recent history of Major surprises

The first major after the return from lockdown was the Women's Open at Royal Troon and it was won by Germany's Sopia Popov, who was widely deemed to have been an outrageous outsider and yet by Monday morning she might well be the second-least likely winner of a major in 2020 and 2021.

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Her win was also peculiar because she's already won at Troon North that year - albeit that was a course in the United States rather than Scotland.

Popov grabbed a three shot 54-hole lead and rarely looked like conceding it, winning at a pre-tournament price of 100/1.

Mirim Lee's victory in the 2020 ANA Inspiration was a little more unlikely despite her fine course form - she'd not landed a top 10 in over a year, but chipped-in regularly on the final day to trump Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson at a whopping 750/1 top price.

Sei Young Kim's triumph in the KPMG Championship was far from a surprise but the same cannot be said for A Lim Kim's win in the US Women's Open.

The Korean had hardly ever played on the LPGA and, whilst in-form on her home circuit, had not won there either - she still claimed victory by one shot at 150/1.

At the start of this week Tavatanakit was set to join the ranks of outsiders - she was 150/1.

How have other players with huge 54-hole leads fared?

In the 21st century there have been 21 players holding a five shot lead with 18 holes to play in a 72-hole event on the LPGA - only three didn't complete the win.

Last week's winner Inbee is looking to pounce.
Last week's winner Inbee is looking to pounce.

Four of those 21 instances came in Majors and all were converted.

There have been bigger 54-hole leads than five - those leaders are 15-for-16 at winning.

The biggest lead spurned in a Major in the 21st century was Beth Daniel's four shot lead at the 2002 MacDonald's LPGA Championship.

Tavatanakit with a lead and in-contention

In 2019, on the Symetra Tour, Tavatanakit held only one pre-final round lead - it was also a margin of five shots and she extended it to seven.

This season she has been getting into contention before struggling on Sunday.

She was second, one blow behind the lead, at the Gainbridge before carding a 74 for tied fifth.

She was then third after 54 holes in the Drive On Championship but a 76 left her T14th.

Has she been learning - or will she wobble again?

What it takes to win the ANA Inspiration

The Thai sensation might be about to rip up the rulebook, but this has always been a tournament with solid trends.

A previous top 25 finish at Mission Hills? 18 of the last 20 winners had done this (16 had multiple top 30s).

A proven long game on the course (a top 10 ranking for Greens in Regulation or Ball Striking)? 17 of the last 20 winners.

Hull's long game is a strong fit for Missions Hills.
Hull's long game is a strong fit for Missions Hills.

A top three finish in California? 17 of the last 20 winners.

Made the cut at the Kia Classic the week before? Since that event was included on the schedule, and not including last year when it wasn't, all 10 winners did this.

What they say

Tavatanakit:

"I'm going to leave today behind. A great day, acknowledge it, it's in the past now. All I can think about is what can I do tomorrow, what can I improve from today's round?

"I was getting a little tired at the end. What can I do to keep my energy level up throughout the day tomorrow? That's going to be my goal. I'm just so tired that like I really want to sleep. I don't think I will have trouble sleeping tonight."

Ewing:

"The biggest part for me (in my first win) was every day before I teed off I had great conversations with my caddie, making myself aware of the un-comfortability that I was going to feel and acknowledging it. If you try to brush it off and put it to the side, then you're not acknowledging the truth."

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Inbee:

"If she plays the way she did the last three days the trophy is hers for sure. (But) I think the bigger the gap, the bigger the pressure. I definitely felt some pressure last week because I was leading by five (because) if you don't win you've done something really wrong."

Conclusion

Big-stake punters might want to back the leader, but what of the rest of us?

Let's trust history to begin with. In the last 25 editions of the event the biggest deficit any winner has made up in the last round is seven shots (Karrie Webb 2006). That leaves us with the five leading chasers.

Then let's turn to those long-standing trends.

Ewing has multiple course top 25s but the long game pedigree there isn't quite right and she lacks a California top three.

Lee fits all the trends and is hoping to emulate Annika Sorenstam (2002-03) in becoming a successful defending champion.

Feng has the course form and solid stats, but she didn't play last week. Nor, incredibly, has she for 16 months. Some comeback.

Inbee is a past winner on the course and also won last week in the Kia Classic.

Hull has multiple good finishes on the course, her long game loves it and she made the cut last week.

Park 12/1 and Hull 28/1 (with Paddy Power) might be able to pounce if Tavatanakit struggles.

READ MORE: A look at Jon Rahm's hopes of glory in 2021 Majors

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