MIAMI (AFP) - LPGA Player of the Year contenders Nelly Korda and Ko Jin-young set the stage for a dramatic final-round duel as they joined a four-way tie for the lead alongside Nasa Hataoka and Celine Boutier at the LPGA Tour Championship.
South Korea's Ko surged up the leaderboard at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, with a six-under par 66 that included seven birdies in a row on the front nine on Saturday (Nov 20).
World No. 1 American Korda had a more up-and-down day, but grabbed a share of the third-round lead with an eagle at the 17th in a five-under par 67.
They were at 14-under par 202 - the target set by Japan's Hataoka with a sensational eight-under 64 and matched by overnight leader Boutier of France with an even par 72.
Hataoka, eight adrift to start the day, opened with eight straight pars then birdied eight of the last 10 holes, a spectacular stretch that included birdies at the last five.
"I think my overall image of the game was pretty good today," Hataoka said. "The first nine I wasn't really stroking my putt really well, but I was patient with that."
She'll play in the final group on Sunday alongside Korda and Ko, who have dominated women's golf in 2021.
The two have swapped the world number one ranking while sharing eight tournament wins between them, Korda also grabbing Olympic gold in Tokyo.
Korda, coming off a gritty win in the Pelican Championship, said she won't be thinking about the race for Player of the Year or the top prize of US$1.5 million, when she tees it up on Sunday.
"It's for other people," she said. "I'm just out there going to do my job, taking a shot at a time, and see where it takes me. That's all you can do."
Korda said her eagle at 17, thanks to a well-struck driver and a "little controlled nine-iron" had eased her frustration with a round in which she "felt like I was struggling a little all day, not converting any putts and kind of not hitting it too great.
"That eagle definitely helped," she said.
Ko, in contrast, was on fire early. Even though she couldn't keep up the pace she said seven birdies in a row made for a "really fun" day.
"I was feeling I can make every putt on the front nine," Ko said. "I had a lot of good shots, good putts on the front nine, but I had a lot of missed shots for the back nine.
"But it's pretty good, and I shot better than yesterday, so it was fine."
Ko, who is battling a nagging left wrist injury, said she felt pressure coming into the week as the defending champion.
But she's not sweating the Player of the Year race in which Korda has the edge.
"She plays really well right now," said Ko, "so I don't have stress for Player of the Year."
Boutier, who has captured titles on both the Ladies European Tour and the US LPGA Tour since helping Europe to the Solheim Cup crown in September, started the day with a four-shot lead.
But after posting two straight 65s the French player couldn't find much momentum, carding two birdies and two bogeys in her even par 72.