BELLEAIR — Maybe it’s the carbohydrates fueling Sei Young Kim after competition. Or maybe it’s a matter of her not looking at the leaderboards on the course to maintain focus. Or maybe it’s how she relaxes with a couple of episodes of The Last Dance after a long day playing golf.
Whatever it is, Kim seems to have found her step heading into Sunday’s final round of the LPGA Tour’s Pelican Women’s Championship in Belleair.
Entering Saturday’s third round, Kim had a one-shot lead over Ally McDonald and a two-shot lead over Sophia Popov. Then Kim shot 64 and propelled herself to a five-shot lead at 14-under 196. McDonald is second. Popov shot 75 and is in a four-way tie for 15th.
Kim tallied seven birdies — four straight on the back nine — and one bogey Saturday.
“I think this week is really important for ball striking,” Kim said. “I think this golf course greens are really firm, so I just — me and (caddie) Paul (Fusco) talking through the right number and then pick(ing) the right shot.”
The 27-year-old South Korean was in a group with McDonald and Stephanie Meadow, third at 8-under 201. Playing with a tough group gave Kim the drive she needed to stay in it emotionally and mentally.
“Our group’s really good,” Kim said. “I think I’ve done pretty well this week.”
McDonald would agree. Although she’s starting “quite a bit behind” Kim, the competition in their group makes it fun on the course.
“Hats off to (Kim) for how well she played to separate herself there,” McDonald said of the birdies on Nos. 14-17.
On the 12th hole, McDonald scored her first career hole-in-one and pulled within one shot of Kim. But the added pressure didn’t mess up Kim’s focus.
“It was impressive,” she said of the shot. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Okay, just keep doing, keep going.’ "
Kim nearly had an ace on the par-3 third hole using a 7-iron. The ball lipped out of the hole and popped out back on the green.
Kim knows plenty about competition. She started on the LPGA Tour in 2015 and most recently won the KPMG Women’s Championship in October. Kim is also a third-degree black belt and has 11 LPGA Tour wins.
Playing competitively with McDonald and Meadow only adds to the fun. And they all feed off each other.
“It’s sports, so if you compete with other players it’s more exciting,” Kim said. “Even (though I’m) going (into Sunday with) a lead, I’m just trying to keep pushing myself until the last hole.”
Lydia Ko (66) is 7 under, and Brooke Henderson (66), Minjee Lee (67) and Austin Ernst (65) are at 6 under. Top-ranked Jin Young Ko shot 69 and is tied for 28th at 2 over in her first LPGA Tour event of the year. She had been home in South Korea since the COVID-19 pandemic.