New Zealand’s Lydia Ko fired a bogey-free four-under-par 68 to seize a two-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the LPGA Tour’s season-opening Tournament of Champions.
The 26-year-old Seoul-born Kiwi stood on 12-under-par 204 after 54 holes at Orlando’s Lake Nona after her second bogey-free round in a row.
Ko, a member at Lake Nona, seeks her 20th career LPGA Tour triumph and her first since the 2022 Tour Championship.
“I played really solid,” Ko said. “There’s still a lot of golf to be played. I’m just going to enjoy it. I’m sure there are going to be nerves, wake up a couple times overnight, but that’s part of it.
“I’m going to take it all in and be excited to play one more round.”
US teen Alexa Pano fired a bogey-free 67 to grab second on 10-under 206 with compatriot Ally Ewing third on eight-under 208 and Japan’s Ayaka Furue, Mexico’s Gaby Lopez and Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh sharing fourth on seven-under 209.
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai is three-under 213 (T15) after rounds of 69, 73 and 71, with countrywomen Paulo Reto a furher three shots behind.
“I’m having a great time. I don’t know if anyone is having more fun than me,” Pano said. “I’ve been playing pretty solid all week, even when I struggled today I was able to keep it together, so just staying positive, having a good time and sticking to my game plan.”
World No 12 Ko, a two-time Major champion, won her most recent title at last year’s Saudi Ladies International on the Ladies European Tour. She also won last month’s Grant Thornton Invitational mixed team event alongside Australian Jason Day.
Ko doesn’t feel a great home-course advantage despite living at Lake Nona.
“There’ve been some situations where normally I’d think about what I need to do for the next shot, but here I’ve just gone up to a shot and said I think it’s a 3-wood or a 5-wood,” Ko said.
“I’m sure there’s an advantage some parts but you still have to hit good shots. The person who plays the best golf is going to win. I’m hoping I can do that.
“I’ve obviously put myself in a good position. I’m just going to enjoy being back in contention again for the first time in a while.”
Ko birdied the 8th and pitched within inches of the hole to set up a tap-in birdie at the par-five 9th.
She curled in a five-foot birdie putt at the par-five 11th then chipped in from off the green to avoid a bogey at the par-three 13th after finding a bunker off the tee.
Ko blasted out of a bunker at 14 to four feet and sank the birdie putt then closed with four pars.
Pano, whose only LPGA Tour title came last August on her 19th birthday at the Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland, birdied the 5th and reeled off three birdies in a row starting at the 9th before sinking her last birdie at the 14th.
Ewing, chasing her fourth career LPGA Tour title, birdied three of the last five holes to shoot 68 and charge into third.
Furue, whose only LPGA Tour title came at the 2022 Japan Open, shared the 36-hole lead with Ko but stumbled to a 73 while Lopez and Dryburgh each fired 71.
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