Jutanugarn was required to return to the Shoal Creek Club early on Saturday morning to complete her second round with still ten holes to play after weather issues had caused delays on Friday.
When she left the course on Friday evening she was four behind Smith but by the time her second round was complete the margin had been reduced to three.
Australia’s Su Oh was one shot behind Jutanugarn and four from her fellow countrywoman’s lead but there was another three shots back to a large group at 3 under namely two time U.S. Women’s Open winner Inbee Park, 2014 champ Michelle Wie, Chella Choi, Jenny Shin, Sei Young Kim, Carlota Ciganda, Jihyun Kim and 18-year-old amateur Linn Grant from Sweden.
Amongst the final grouping on day three, Smith and Oh had never previously won on the LPGA Tour while Jutanugarn had eight titles to her name one of those a major.
To a large extent therefore it was two Davids against a Goliath and that was the way the round would unfold. With birdies at 1st and 3rd holes Jutanugarn had drawn within one but Smith would bogey the 8th and 9th and when Jutanugarn reeled off four birdies in five holes on the back nine she had moved five shots clear almost in a heartbeat.
Jutanugarn finally dropped a shot when she bogeyed the par 3 16th and the difference was four and that was the way it would remain despite a valiant effort by Smith to move closer.
Not only was Jutanugarn clinical in the manner in which she played on day three it was her etiquette and respect for her peers that also stood out.
At the 12th hole when Smith holed an important 18- footer for par Jutanugarn applauded. It was a touch and gesture of class and told the story of a young lady who has respect for her fellow players despite controlling them in such a huge event.
Afterwards Jutanugarn summed up the feeling between the group.
"We had so much fun. I feel like I played with one of the two nicest players on tour. We have been rooting for each other every hole."
For Jutanugarn this is her 6th US Women's Open but interestingly given her standing in the game just the second time she has made the cut.
Sarah Jane Smith in action today - courtesy of USGA
So Jutanugarn leads by four over Smith and by six over Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim heading into tomorrow's final round.
The championship appears Jutanugarn’s to win or lose and indeed it is but despite a round of 74 Smith handled the giddy heights of leading the US Women’s Open well and is after all in second position in the female game’s greatest ever championship.
If she can find a way to hole some of the putts she missed today then perhaps it is not yet all over for the 33 year old and let’s not forget a runner-up purse of close to US$500,000 is up for grabs so if she can play without the constraints of the lead on day four then there is still a lot to play for.
"I felt really good, surprisingly," said Smith when summing up her day. "I felt like I kept my nerves under control and hit the ball pretty nice on the front nine by a couple of shots and gave myself a lot of opportunities.
"I think the nerves showed up in my putting. I didn't feel too bad, but I think when you are not getting the ball to the hole it probably proves that you are not letting it go and a bit of freedom in the putting. Hopefully I can hit a few putts tonight and get that nice flow going for tomorrow.
"Even though the score doesn't show a great round, I feel like I felt better than I felt in that position before. Knowing that I think will make tonight easier, tomorrow morning easier, then I'll be a bit freer on the greens tomorrow."
Su Oh slipped to a round of 78 and is in a share of 14th place while Minjee Lee was round in 80 to be 48th.
Earlier in the day Karrie Webb had missed her first cut in the last ten years at the event.
RULES: ACCIDENTALLY MOVING YOUR BALL
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