Defending champion Brooke Henderson lurking at KPMG Women's PGA Championship

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
Defending champion Brooke Henderson lurking at KPMG Women's PGA Championship

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois -- On a special day in her home country -- "Canada Day" -- defending KPMG Women's PGA Champion Brooke Henderson shot a second consecutive 2-under 69 in the tournament's third round at Olympia Fields. At 7-under 206, Henderson will enter the final round just three shots behind leaders Danielle Kang and Chella Choi.

"I heard a little bit of 'Happy Canada Days' out there," which is good," Henderson said. "It's amazing, 150 years, and to be able to represent my country at the Olympics last year and then every time I'm out on the course all over the world. I'm very proud to be a Canadian and it's also a special weekend. The Fourth of July is coming up too, so a big weekend for celebration."

Henderson, 19, is hoping to have the same celebration she had at this tournament a year ago at Sahalee when she defeated Lydia Ko in a playoff.

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Saturday's front side at Olympia Fields included two birdies that were canceled out by two bogeys. After a birdie on the par-4 16th hole, Henderson reached 3 under on the back side, but gave a stroke back with a bogey on the difficult par-3 17th.

At the par-5 18th, she had a short putt for birdie, but just missed and settled for par.

"I would have really liked to have 17 and 18 back," she said. "They were very similar putt and I just hit it through the break both times. So, you know, hopefully tomorrow I can just make those kind of putts and put myself closer to the top."

In 2016, Henderson began the final round trailing by two strokes. This time it will be three, but there's no doubt that she'll take a boatload of confidence into Sunday after the way things panned out in the Pacific northwest.

"With a major championship, really it comes down to the back nine on Sunday," Henderson said. "So as long as I can play solid and get myself into a good position coming down those final holes, and especially here with 17 playing so tough, 16 playing tough and then 18, you almost have to make birdie or you fall behind the pack. I think it will be a really interesting finish and I'm just hoping to be part of it."

As if the confidence from winning her first major a year ago weren't high enough going into Sunday, Henderson also won in her last start on the LPGA two weeks ago in the Meijer LPGA Classic.

"Any time you can win out here on the LPGA Tour against the best in the world, it gives you a lot of confidence," she said. "And especially me. I didn't have the season, the results, that I was really looking for, but I knew my game was in a great place. To be able to hoist a trophy and get that win so close to coming here was really important for me."

Sitting just three strokes back, Henderson doesn't necessarily believe she needs to play more aggressively in the final round.

As we've seen with relatively low scores the first three days, Henderson said this is a course where you "need to play aggressive" anyway.

There are birdie holes early -- like the par-5 first hole.

Being three back to start, "will give me some extra motivation maybe to start a little bit faster and get a birdie in the first couple of holes," she said.

"But you've got to play smart, and so if if the opportunity is given to me, then hopefully I can make up for it."

If she does, Henderson will join Inbee Park (2013, '14 and '15) to successfully defend the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.