Ko leads by three in bid for 11th LPGA Tour win

Lydia Ko of New Zealand tees off the 4th hole on March 26, 2016.
Lydia Ko of New Zealand tees off the 4th hole on March 26, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

CARLSBAD (California) • Women's world No. 1 golfer Lydia Ko carded a bogey-free 67 to seize a three-shot lead after three rounds of the Kia Classic in southern California on Saturday.

The New Zealander began the day tied for second with Brittany Lang and one shot behind leader Jenny Shin but surged three clear after shooting a tidy five-under-par round for a 14-under 202 total.

Lang is tied with South Koreans Shin and Park Sung Hyun at 205 at the demanding Aviara course in Carlsbad.

Ko was two under for her front nine, but then reeled off three straight birdies from the 11th hole to put her in a strong position to win her 11th LPGA Tour title.

"You don't get that many opportunities where you're going into the final round with a three-shot lead," the 18-year-old said. "But I'll take it. I'd rather be a couple shots ahead than a couple shots behind."

She has only once before held a multiple-shot lead heading into the final round of an LPGA Tour event. That was at last year's Fubon LPGA Taiwan, where a four-shot lead turned into a landslide victory.

Later this week, she will be seeking to win back-to-back Majors at the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage, California, and become the first New Zealander to win more than a single Major title. She had claimed the season-ending Evian Championship in France last year.

Park kicked off a run of five consecutive birdies at the 12th hole but an errant tee shot on No. 17 led to a double bogey. She hit back immediately though, with a birdie on the final hole to stay in touch.

Australia's Minjee Lee provided the highlight of the day, when her five-wood tee shot at the 275-yard par-four 16th hole landed in front of the green, kicked left and rolled into the cup for just the second hole-in-one on a par four in LPGA history.

The first came earlier this year from South Korean Jang Ha Na in the Bahamas.

"Just lucky," said Lee after a round of 70, adding that it was her first hole-in-one. "I hit a good one shot, though. It's a bit of both."

World No. 2 Park In Bee is four strokes off the pace on 206, with Jessica Korda a shot further back.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Ko leads by three in bid for 11th LPGA Tour win'. Print Edition | Subscribe