MIAMI (AFP) - World number two Kim Sei-young fired six birdies in a five-under par 67 on Saturday (Dec 19) to take a one-shot lead over top-ranked Ko Jin-young in the LPGA Tour Championship.
Kim, seeking a second straight victory in the tour finale at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, led by as many as three and even a wobbly finish couldn't knock her off the top of the leaderboard with a 13-under par total of 203.
"Still so many positives," said Kim, who started the day trailing overnight leader Ko by one stroke, but was tied for the lead after birdies at the second, fifth and seventh.
She added three more birdies coming in, at 10, 11 and 13 and was up by three when she went far right off the tee at the par-five 17th.
Her tough lie in the pinestraw forced her to punch out back to the fairway on the way to a par.
"I was worried about the left side, so at the impact moment I pushed it and that's why my ball almost got to the hazard," she said. "But it (stayed) safe, luckily."
Playing partner Ko, meanwhile, made just her third birdie of the day at 17 - despite missing the fairway left off the tee - to close the gap to two shots.
Kim then closed with a bogey at 18 - where her chip from off the green left her a five-footer to save par.
Ko two-putted for par at the last to complete a bogey-free three-under 69 for 204.
"I said yesterday my goal is just bogey-free rounds on the weekend, so I made it today," said Ko, who is playing just her fourth LPGA tournament of the pandemic-disrupted season.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
It was a further two strokes back to England's Georgia Hall, who bounced back from her lone bogey at the fifth with five birdies in a four-under 68.
Another five players shared fourth on nine-under 207.
That included Canadian Brooke Henderson, England's Charley Hull and Australian Minjee Lee, who all shot 66, and Americans Austin Ernst (69) and Lexi Thompson (71).
Lee's eight birdies on the day included five straight from the 13th through the 17th.
"It was just a nice stretch," Lee said. "I hit really good iron shots into a lot of those holes, so it was nice to have little putts for birdie."
While Kim - who won the title last year with a scintillating 25-foot birdie at the 72nd hole - didn't set herself up for a runaway, she did put herself in position to overtake fellow South Korean Park In-bee for Player of the Year honours.
Park was in a tie for 28th after her third straight 71.
"Well, my position is really good chance to the chase everything," said Kim, whose two wins since the LPGA's coronavirus shutdown ended include her first major at the Women's PGA Championship.
"If I play well tomorrow, good chance for everything. So I will just keep doing."