A good putter is a match for any man … or woman as the case may be. Just ask Pernilla Lindberg, who rolled in one important putt after another in the third round at the ANA Inspiration to set a 54-hole tournament record at 14-under par and will take a three-shot lead into the final round.
Lindberg, who had never been in the final pairing on the weekend of a major and has never led going into the final round of any LPGA event until now, stood on the putting green ten minutes before her Saturday 2:10 tee time and told her fiancé and caddie, Danny Taylor, “How great is this? I’m just going to take it all in and have fun.”
The fun started 20 minutes later on the first green when Lindberg, who split the opening fairway with a driver, rolled in a 22-footer for birdie. She followed that with a couple of 3- and 4-footers for par.
Then she made a brain-fade bogey at the par-3 fifth by hitting 5-iron from 190 yards into a one-club wind, a shot the longest hitter on tour likely wouldn’t have tried. It was her first bogey in 41 holes, the longest blemish-free stretch by anyone all week.
It could have easily been two bogeys in a row. Lindberg under-clubbed on the sixth as well, leaving herself a difficult bunker shot. But the putter saved her again as she holed a curling 20-footer.
“That was huge,” she said of the putt on No. 6. “We talk a lot about momentum in golf and that was really a momentum keeper there. I hadn’t missed many greens. I hadn’t made a bogey all week until No. 5 and then to maybe make back-to-back bogeys, obviously, that would have kind of felt like I swung the momentum the other way. So that putt was really huge.
“It’s funny, I birdied No. 6 from above the pin the first two days, and now (on Saturday) I holed the putt from above the hole there again. So that hole has kind of brought some momentum to me this week.”
On the back nine she made one great roll after another, none bigger than the back-to-back bombs she made at 14 and 15, the former for birdie from 20 feet and the latter for par from 25.
Not only did putt after crucial putt go in, they looked good doing it. Lindberg’s speed was perfect all day, with the ball crawling over the front edge or falling into the sides on the final roll. She never power-lipped or jammed one in the back. As Ben Crenshaw used to say, she always “gave luck a chance,” by having putts die at the hole.
“I guess I saw the lines good, and I love these greens,” she said. “Obviously, I holed quite a few downhill putts, and I just feel like when I’m above the hole, I just need to get it started online and it’s going to trickle down to the hole. There were a few of the uphillers that I actually left short, but I just love these greens.”
Sure, she missed a few. Her birdie putt at the ninth came up 3 feet short and after missing the green right on 17, she failed to get up and down. But when she made another curling 5-footer on 18 for birdie, her 26th putt of the day, Lindberg, your ANA Inspiration leader, proved what every golfer knows but few want to admit: As great as it looks and feels to hit long, towering tee shots, the most important shots in golf are the ones that never get off the ground.