San Francisco (AFP) – Former world number one Lydia Ko, seeking her first win since 2016, takes a one-stroke lead into the final round of the LPGA Mediheal Championship after firing a five-under par 67 on Saturday.
The New Zealand star, who has slumped to 18th in the world rankings during an LPGA title drought stretching back to the Marathon Classic in July of 2016, topped the leaderboard on 11-under 205, one shot in front of American Jessica Korda.
It’s the first time since her last victory that Ko has led after 54 holes of an LPGA event, but the player who turned 21 on Tuesday said she wouldn’t put pressure on herself chasing an elusive win.
“I’ve got to play as best I can, stay focused and have a lot of fun and if it happens that’s great,” Ko said. “But I think the most important thing for me is to stay positive. I know there’s still a lot of golf to be played.”
Overnight leader Korda, seeking her second LPGA victory of the season, left her birdie attempt at the 18th short, settling for a one-under 71 and 206.
Australian Minjee Lee was alone in third after a 68 for 208.
Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn, who claimed her first LPGA title last week in Los Angeles, signed for a 71 and headed a group sharing fourth on 210 that also included Colombia’s Mariajo Uribe (68), American Ryann O’Toole (69) and England’s Charley Hull (73).
For Ko, the friendly confines of Lake Merced Golf Club could be just the place to end her drought.
Although Ko had 11 top-10 finishes across the 2017 season but has looked a far cry from the fresh-faced teenager who tore the scene apart back in 2015.
Five victories, including her first Major at the Evian Championship, took Ko to the very pinnacle of women’s golf that year as she became the game’s youngest ever world number one aged just 17.
In all she owns 14 LPGA titles, including two majors and has spent 104 weeks at number one on the world.
Victories at Lake Merced and 2014 and 2015 were part of that meteoric rise, and Ko, now a member of the club in suburban San Francisco, quipped that she thought she’d had some “friendly bounces” during a round that saw her hole out from a bunker for a birdie at the 11th.
That was her fourth birdie of the day, and came on the heels of her lone bogey.
She added two more at 15 and 16 — where her 12-footer broke so sharply late that she looked astonished when it dropped into the side of the cup.