CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – Mamiko Higa dropped out of the lead with three bogeys on Saturday, and heads into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open one shot behind co-leaders Liu Yu and Celine Boutier.
Higa, the overnight leader, shot her second straight 71 at the Country Club of Charleston in an up-and-down third round that also featured three birdies, while China’s Liu and France’s Boutier shared lead at 7-under 206 after 54 holes.
Along with Higa, Americans Jaye Marie Green and Lexi Thompson are tied for third at 6-under in a congested leaderboard.
“I had few birdie chances and I felt suffocated all day,” Higa said.
“I’m only one stroke behind, so if I play my own game I think I have a chance (to win),” she said.
According to the United States Golf Association, Higa is the first Japanese player since Mika Miyazato in 2011 to have led or co-led after any Women’s Open round. That year, Miyazato went on to finish fifth.
Liu shot a 5-under 66 to match Boutier at 7 under, while Boutier shot 69.
The pair are good friends and were starters on Duke’s 2014 NCAA championship team.
Boutier held the lead at 8 under until she made her only bogey of the round on No. 16 after stubbing a chip and needing a 21-footer to limit the damage. She won the Vic Open in February in Australia for her first LPGA Tour title.
Liu, in her first U.S. Women’s Open, made six birdies in a 13-hole stretch to move up after starting four shots off the lead. She’s winless on the tour.
Thompson powered her way into contention, going eagle-birdie on the 15th and 16th holes for a 68.
Green shot 68, her second sub-70 showing this week after entering with just one round in the 60s in five Open appearances.
Boutier had a 25-foot birdie try on the final hole, but went a foot or so past and finished with par to close a long day on course.
Boutier was among 45 players who couldn’t finish the second round Friday because of a weather delay and had to return before sun up to complete four holes before turning her focus to the third round.
She was a stroke behind Higa at the start and the two were in the final threesome. Higa opened things up early with birdies on the third and fourth holes to take a three-shot lead on Boutier.
But Boutier stayed patient — and pounced when her opportunities came. She had a 10-foot birdie on the ninth to tie Higa, then moved ahead with a 12-footer for another birdie on the 13th.
Boutier’s bobble came on one of the holes playing the easiest, the par-4 16th when her approach went over the green and she advanced her third about two feet before sending the next one some 20 feet beyond the flag. Boutier rallied once more with a solid, confident stroke for bogey and hold on to a share of first.
The 23-year-old Liu fell five shots off the lead with a bogey on No. 3. But Liu had six birdies the rest of the way and will play the final group with one of her best friends on tour.
“We probably won’t talk much,” she said with a laugh.
Thompson, who tied for fifth in this event last year, looked like she was fading with consecutive bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes to fall five shots behind.