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Lizette Salas knows she has what it takes to make a Sunday charge at the AIG Women’s Open.
Salas knows because she’s done it before.
Two years ago, Salas rallied from four strokes back to give herself a putt to win on the 72nd hole at Woburn Golf Club. But Salas’ birdie bid slid by and opened the door for Hinako Shibuno to snatch the major title. Salas settled for a second-place showing for her best finish in a major championship. It was a valuable learning experience, just like the one she had two months ago at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she held a share of the 54-hole lead with Nelly Korda before Korda pulled away with a three-stroke victory. Again, Salas finished runner-up.
“It hurts a little bit to know that I could still hit the shots but I can’t finish the job,” Salas said earlier this week. “I probably should have taken a break after KPMG. I kind of pushed myself a little too much physically and mentally to continue competing, but you know, this is all a learning experience. Now I know what my body and my mind can take or my mental game can take.”
On Sunday, Salas begins the final round with a chance to put those lessons to the test as she sits just one stroke behind leaders Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koerstz Madsen.
“Looking back on those experiences is going to help me just kind of stay calm and be patient tomorrow,” Salas said Saturday. “I think this is a whole new ballgame and a whole new challenge, and I think we’re ready.”
Salas came to Carnoustie Golf Links mentally prepared to take on the test, which on Saturday played for the first time this week more like its reputation for being wet, windy and tough. Salas got off to a shaky start with bogeys on two of her first five holes. Playing in trying weather conditions, Salas said, forced her to play more conservative – or “boring golf” as she likes to call it – by hitting a lot of fairways and greens.
Salas bounced back with birdies at the sixth and eighth holes to go out in even par. She added two more birdies on the inward nine to climb within one of the lead.
“This championship brings out something in me that, you know, I’m getting the job done as far as hitting good shots and putting well,” Salas said. “Really just trying to check myself whenever I get down, and we’re going to hit bad shots this week and it’s just how I can recover as far as my attitude and just thinking more positive.”
While major championships are important to Salas, her priority throughout her career has been making the U.S. Solheim Cup team and then playing her very best in representing her country. Playing well in majors has become a vehicle to getting Salas on the team with twice the number of points available. The motivation to make up much needed ground earlier this season was what propelled Salas to the top of the leaderboard at the KPMG Women’s PGA.
On Sunday, the U.S. and European Solheim Cup teams will be finalized, and Salas is looking to lock up her position on the U.S. squad. She currently holds one of two automatic qualifying positions via the Rolex Rankings.
“There’s a lot at stake here, a lot of spots are up for grabs,” Salas said earlier this week. “Obviously I want to secure my spot and represent the red, white, and blue but at the same time I just have to focus on what I can control.”
Salas knows what it takes to mount a charge in a major championship. If she can do it again Sunday, she’ll capture everything that Sunday has to offer, a first major title and a spot on her beloved Solheim Cup team.