Late eagle lifts Thompson to round 3 lead

American Lexi Thompson's flawless finish gave her a one-shot lead after the third round of the ANA Inspiration at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
American Lexi Thompson's flawless finish gave her a one-shot lead after the third round of the ANA Inspiration at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Lexi Thompson conjured up a scintillating finish to open up a one-shot lead at the ANA Inspiration on Saturday, setting up a thrilling final-round battle for the first women's Major of the season.

The 21-year-old American golfer - aiming to repeat her victory here in 2014 - produced back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes to move within one shot of the lead at Rancho Mirage's Mission Hills Country Club.

But she saved her best for last on the par-five 18th, reaching the green in two with a superlative shot from the fairway which left her with a 15-foot eagle putt she duly drained.

That gave her a three-under 69, putting her on 10-under 206 for the tournament after the third round.

She was one clear of a pack of three players led by world No. 1 Lydia Ko, Thai Ariya Jutanugarn and South Korean Chun In Gee (69).

"To finish like that really turns around my confidence. I feel really good going into tomorrow," said Thompson, who battled through a shaky spell earlier in her round that saw her bogey the par-three eighth and the par-four 10th. "This is probably the best I've hit it this season."

New Zealand prodigy Ko, meanwhile, hit a solid if unspectacular round comprising three birdies and 15 pars. She attributed her 69 to a more aggressive approach in her putting as well as her unerring accuracy off the tee.

"I felt like I struck the ball a lot better today and I hit a few more fairways," she said, a day after fighting allergies that caused vision problems.

Another record is now in sight for the 18-year-old and winner of the Evian Championship last year.

She is vying to become the youngest player to win two women's Majors, a mark set by South Korean Pak Se Ri when she won the LPGA Championship and US Open at the age of 20 in 1998.

Thailand's Ariya, meanwhile, fired a 67 to remain firmly in contention on nine under. The 20-year-old from Bangkok - who made worldwide headlines in 2007 when she became the youngest-ever player to qualify for an LPGA Tour event at the age of 11 - carded five birdies and no bogeys in a flawless third round.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Late eagle lifts Thompson to round 3 lead'. Print Edition | Subscribe