Natalie Gulbis, with a sparkling third-round 7-under 65 to get into a three-way lead heading into Sunday’s finale of the LPGA’s season-ending event, has a chance to capture her first tour win since 2007.
“It seems like a very long time ago,” Gulbis told reporters after rebounding from seven shots back to get to 11-under for the week and a share of a one-shot advantage with Pornanong Phatlum and Gerina Piller over Stacy Lewis and Shanshan Feng at the CME Group Titleholders. “Every single time I practice or I work out I'm reminded that I haven't won an individual title since 2007, and even though I've had good finishes or played good golf, it's still not an individual win. So it's something that definitely motivates me and it's something that I want to achieve again.”
For Gulbis to be in contention, let alone vying for the $700,000 first-place prize, seemed all but impossible for the 30-year-old who overcame malaria earlier this year and holds down the 106th slot in the Rolex Rankings.
Combined with her starting point water-logged bogey-6 on her first hole on Saturday, it looked as if it would be another so-so finish for the Californian who makes Las Vegas her home.
Then came eight birdies and a spot in the final group for the LPGA’s final tilt of 2013. For Gulbis, who last tasted victory at the 2007 Evian Championship, it was not about the money.
“To walk away with the trophy,” said Gulbis, who plans to get married next month, “it wouldn’t matter what amount the first place was. To win another individual title would be huge for me.”
It’s been a tough year for the hard-working Gulbis, who came down with malaria at the first contest of the season in Thailand. After a couple of attempts to get back to work before her body was ready, Gulbis finally was able to play 18 holes in June.
With the energy to practice, Gulbis switched out some clubs and put in some rigorous sessions with her swing coach to get her game back on track. Everything seemed to click on Saturday after her initial hiccup.
“I've been off for three weeks and I've been home in Las Vegas working with my coach, Butch Harmon,” Gulbis said. “As any player knows, it's quite a process to change irons.”
It won’t be easy for Gulbis to grab that elusive second W. Phatlum was off and running with a birdie on the first hole Sunday, Shanshan Feng had two birdies in her first three holes, and after starting par-bogey, Gulbis was two shots off the lead and tied for third with Piller.
First-round leader Sandra Gal, world No. 1 Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, and third-ranked Lewis were all bunched near the top early into Sunday’s final round. Lewis, with a chance to win both the scoring and money titles, scored a dazzling 63 on Saturday to get herself into the mix.