Kang won the friendly showdown 4 and 3 for a quarterfinal spot on another hot afternoon at Shadow Creek.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t feel that great,” Kang said. “I really wanted to win. I wanted to advance and play this weekend. … But all in all, any time she missed a putt my heart just dropped because I want her to make them. I know she’s playing against me and it was definitely different. I knew this was going to be very stressful for me.”
An ambassador for course owner MGM Resorts, Kang won the opening hole with a par, took Nos. 6 and 7 with birdies and No. 8 with a par for a 4-up lead. Salas won 10 and 11 with pars, Kang took 12 with a birdie and ended it with a par on 14.
“I made some really great putts today,” Kang said. “I had some crazy putts go in.”
U.S. Solheim Cup teammate Salas was coming off her best finish of the year, a tie for fifth last week in the Pure Silk Championship in Virginia.
“She’s my teammate and always has my back and I’ve got hers,” Kang said. “I can’t wait to play with her as a teammate again.”
“Every day is getting a little bit better with the game,” Park said. “And making little more birdies every day, so I feel like my game is coming along. It feels good to move on and play the weekend.”
Popov routed Sung Hyun Park 6 and 5.
“I think that’s the first goal, to make it out of the group phase, make it to the weekend,” Popov said. “I took care of business in that way.”
ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit beat Stacy Lewis 5 and 4 to advance. After Lewis birdied the ninth to pull within a hole, Tavatanakit won four of the next five to end the match. They entered the day tied for the group lead.
“It’s a great feeling walking off the course today only playing 14 holes,” Tavatanakit said. “Long weekend ahead, so a lot of positives here. … Just keep making pars. This course is such a beast that if you make par eventually you’ll get your point.”
While some top U.S. players skipped the first-year event to prepare for the U.S. Women’s Open next week at Olympic in San Francisco, Kang said she isn’t looking ahead.
“Crazy as it sounds, I’m not thinking about next week at all,” Kang said. “I been really looking forward to this week since it was announced. … It’s just been really exciting to play at a home golf course. I’ve never done that.”
Kang won in consecutive weeks last summer in Ohio in the LPGA Tour’s return from the coronavirus pandemic. She has five tour victories — the first in 2017 in the major KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — and showed her match-play prowess in U.S. Women’s Amateur wins in 2010 and 2011.
“I just really like being able to focus on one person,” Kang said. “I know that a lot of times when we play stroke play we have to play to the field, which means you have to focus on your game and do what you need to do and see where you end up. Here, I just have to beat one person and they’re right in front of me. It’s easier to be aggressive and attack and do what I need to do.”