ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) – Inbee Park wanted tough conditions at St. Andrews to try to make up an eight-shot deficit in her pursuit of a fourth straight major.
It turned out to be too tough for anyone.
The third round of the Women's British Open was suspended Saturday by gusts that topped 40 mph and kept golf balls from staying put on the greens. After waiting six hours for the wind to calm, players were told to return Sunday morning for a marathon finish.
Whether that becomes a huge break for the leaders – Na Yeon Choi at 10-under 134 was an hour away from teeing off – won't be known until Sunday.
“It's still going to be windy tomorrow – not, hopefully, as windy as it's been today, but there's no letup in it,'' said Susan Simpson, head of operations for the Ladies Golf Union. “It's still going to be very breezy and equally difficult conditions.''
Nine players who completed the third round had an average score of 78.2. Cristie Kerr and Lydia Ko each had a 75, the best of those who finished. Rikako Morita shot 86. The cumulative nine-hole scores for the 20 players who at least made the turn was 54-over par.
There were 508 holes played, and only 26 birdies.
Park is trying to become the first golfer, male or female, to win four straight professional majors in the same season. Her hope was for a steady round in raging wind and for the leading players to lose ground. Park was 1 under through four holes, making a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 3.
But it was her par on the fourth hole that helped make officials realize it was time to stop. The ball moved from its position from a gust, and Park called for a ruling to make sure she could replace it as long as she didn't address the ball.
Simpson said it wasn't Park's ruling alone.
“The time frame for the balls actually moving was very short,'' Simpson said. “We got five calls, all in the space of a few minutes. … So I can't actually say which one was the last one that made the difference because it all happened so quickly. There was a gust of almost 40 mph, and with that singular gust, all the balls started to move on the five calls that we had. And we suspended play immediately.''
The most impressive round belonged to Anna Nordqvist, who was 1 under through 15 holes. Danielle Kang was even through 11 holes.
Everyone was to return at 6:15 a.m. Sunday to resume the third round. That means the last group of Choi and Miki Saiki is expected to tee off about 7:30 a.m. The draw will not change for the final round – players will head right back out, and if everything goes according to plan, the Women's British Open should finish around 6 p.m.
Choi had a one-shot lead over Saiki. Morgan Pressel was another shot behind.
Most of the trouble was around the loop – Nos. 7-11 on the far end of the Old Course that is exposed to the elements. Simpson said the wind reached a sustained speed of 30 mph, and during the suspensions, one gust was recorded at 50 mph.
Because more than half of the 69-player field did not finish, there is an option to scrap the third round and start over. Eighteen players had not even started the third round. Simpson said starting over was considered, but not for long.
“We had five groups complete the round, and while we took that into account and it was part of the discussions, it was quite quickly ruled out,'' she said. “Because we don't feel that's fair to the players who have also competed and already played their rounds. We want to try to continue. Tomorrow, the conditions are meant to be difficult in the morning, as well.''
She said she spoke to all the players and their response was mixed.
“Some are delighted and some are not delighted,'' she said. “And I think that's the way it works.''
Wind is the main defense of links courses, and St. Andrews is among the toughest of the British links in these elements because the Old Course is exposed. Simpson said officials prepared for a big blow Saturday by not cutting the green on the par-3 11th hole and being mindful of hole locations, making sure they were not on ridges. The greens were 9.4 on the Stimpmeter, compared with 10 the previous two days.
They just weren't prepared for this much wind.
Simpson said the tournament could be extended to Monday, if necessary, which would lead to chaos for the Solheim Cup captains, Meg Mallon and Liselotte Neumann. This is the final qualifying event for the Cup, which starts Aug. 16 at the Colorado Golf Club. They were to announce their captain's picks two hours after the Women's British Open is over, and Mallon said her 12-player team was to fly to Denver on Monday for a practice round.