SINGAPORE - One could sense the killer instinct in Ariya Jutanugarn's steely gaze at the US$1.5 million (S$2 million) HSBC Women's World Championship on Saturday (March 2).
It felt like she had the Eye of the Tiger (Woods), and to borrow a line from Survivor's classic, she enjoyed the thrill of the fight and rose to the challenge of her rivals.
The Thai's flight-mates, Australia's Minjee Lee and Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England, were already playing stellar golf as they carded 67 and 68 respectively on Sentosa Golf Club's New Tanjong Course.
But whatever they did, world No. 1 Ariya did better. She sank six-birdies in a blemish-free round of 66 to top the leaderboard on a total score of 11-under 205, with Lee and Shadoff one and two strokes behind respectively.
American Amy Olson, who led by two after two rounds, had a mixed round of one double-bogey, three bogeys and six birdies for a 71, three strokes behind.
On Sunday, the 23-year-old Ariya will be the one to catch. Nine of her 11 professional victories came after she held the 54-hole lead.
She told The Sunday Times: "I'm going to focus only on the things I can control, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to have fun tomorrow.
"I shot six under, so it's easy to say it was not tough. But to be honest, it was tough. The greens were still really firm and tough to read.
"I trusted my processes and the difference was I finally made some putts and because of that, I'm feeling confident. But I'm still going to practise a bit more on the putting green."
Among the chasing pack are five former world No. 1s - Park Sung-hyun (209), Lydia Ko, Park In-bee (both 211), Feng Shanshan and Cristie Kerr (both 213).
Said Lee, who will play all four rounds alongside Ariya: "I'm pretty hot right now... I feel like I'm hitting it pretty solid.
"I probably hit a couple of drives here and there that I sort of sprayed a little bit. So if I can get that straightened out and hole a couple more putts...
"Ariya is a great person and it's nice to play with her. I don't have a preference to be leading or chasing. I just play my own game because I can't really control what the others are doing."
Ko, sporting a slimmer look and blonde hair, had a 69.
She said: "It was tough out there, so you just have to be patient and sometimes par is not the worst score.
"I was trying to give myself good opportunities and I was in a good group with Ko Jin-young and Ji Eun-hee, so I really enjoyed the good company and everyone was playing really well. We got into a good rhythm of things, and hopefully that continues."
Singaporean Amanda Tan had her best round on Saturday, a 79 after earlier scores of 83 and 84 for a 30-over total of 246.