LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Park Sung-hyun maintained a share of the lead with a 69 Saturday (July 6) in the Thornberry Creek Classic where Monday qualifier Noh Yealimi is trying to win in her first start as a pro.
The world No. 1 Park is tied atop a crowded leaderboard with Feng Shanshan, Tiffany Joh and Ariya Jutanugarn at 20-under 196 heading into the final round of the tournament in Oneida, Wisconsin.
But just one stroke back is Park's third round playing partner Noh, who has been the biggest surprise of the week after the 17-year-old rookie shot the same three-under 69 score.
It was Noh's third straight round in the 60s to reach a 19-under total, placing her alone in fifth spot.
The Korean-American Noh played the opening two rounds alongside an amateur whom she beat by 73 shots and Saturday she went toe-to-toe with the top ranked player in the world.
Park said Noh's maturity surprised her.
"She spoke very good Korean so I had time to speak with her some. I asked her how old she was and she said she was 17," said Park.
"Even though she's a young player, her swing is really good, her playing is really good. I look forward to her play in the future."
The long hitting Park, whose win last week in Arkansas returned her to the No. 1 position, finished with five birdies in a seven hole stretch on the front nine.
The 25-year-old South Korean could have had the outright lead but stumbled to the finish with a double bogey on 15 and a bogey on her next hole.
She started the day with a one shot lead over runner-up Noh, who turned down a scholarship to a major US university and decided instead to turn pro in January.
"It was so fun watching her play," said Noh of Park. "She's really friendly. I was, like, really impressed with her distance obviously and then just how many birdies she made. I lost count during the front nine."
She is trying to become just the third Monday qualifier in history to win a tournament and the first since Canadian Brooke Henderson four years ago. The other was Laurel Kean in 2000.
Noh played with the poise of a veteran on Saturday, rolling in two birdies and an eagle on the par-four sixth. She had one bogey on 14 but recovered to post a birdie two holes later. Noh had an opportunity to share the lead but missed her 17-foot putt on 18.
China's Feng scorched the course with a seven-under 65 that included an eagle on the back nine and three straight birdies on the front.
She is tied with Thailand's Ariya who also had a chance to take over the top spot after rolling in four birdies in a five hole stretch before making bogey on the par-three 17.
The 23-year-old Thai needed just 26 putts on Saturday but said there is room for improvement.
"Of course I want to bring my best game tomorrow because I still have a lot of things to work on," said Ariya. "Today I'm getting better with my three-wood, but you know, my putting struggled a little bit. So hope tomorrow everything can come together."
American Joh is also at 20-under after a round of five birdies, one eagle and a bogey.