New Zealand’s Lydia Ko grinded out a level par 72 in blustery conditions to seize a two-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.
Despite cold and windy weather at the Boca Raton resort in Florida, third-ranked Ko churned out 16 pars against a lone birdie and bogey to finish 54 holes on 11-under 205.
“To finish even par after a tough, grindy day, I think it was a solid day in the office,” Ko said. “Overall my game wasn’t as sharp, but when the conditions are tough, it’s difficult.
“You have to be more focused and move on when do you make mistakes. I don’t think I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities, but I still was able to hit a fair amount of greens and that makes it a little bit easier to kind of get around the golf course.”
Lydia Ko withstood the high winds and leads by two with 18 holes to play at the @GainbridgeLPGA 👏
Watch highlights from her Saturday 72! 👇 pic.twitter.com/QDAVMGzDBh
— LPGA (@LPGA) January 29, 2022
American Danielle Kang, who led by two at one stage, battled to a 74 to stand second on 207.
“Today was rough,” Kang said. “I checked out a little bit for the back nine. I did everything I can to stay in contention and gave myself a chance.
“It was really tough out there. There were a lot of gusting shots and I never missed so many putts by so far in a while.”
After three rounds in Boca, @daniellekang is in solo second.
— LPGA (@LPGA) January 30, 2022
On a gusty day when the scoring average soared above 75, France’s Celine Boutier fired a bogey-free three-under-par 69, the day’s low round, to seize third on 208.
England’s Charley Hull and Japan’s Yuka Saso shared fourth on 209 with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka sixth on 211.
Ko, the 24-year-old South Korean-born Kiwi, took last year’s Tokyo Olympic bronze medal after a silver in 2016 at Rio.
Ko seeks her 17th career LPGA title and first since last April’s Lotte Championship in Hawaii.
Kang won last week’s LPGA Tournament of Champions in Orlando for her sixth tour title.
World No 8 Kang began the day deadlocked with Ko for the lead, then sandwiched birdies at the fourth and sixth holes around a bogey at the fifth to reach 12-under.
When Ko followed with a bogey at the seventh, Kang’s lead stretched to two strokes.
But Ko rolled in a six-foot birdie putt at the par-five 10th and Kang missed a par putt from half that distance to leave them tied at the top once again.
“There were some shots that no matter how many times I stepped up, I don’t know how to hit the shot,” Kang said. “I backed up about three, four times on one shot on 10 because the wind did four different things.
“Trusting what I needed to do was really tough. My short game was great. I hit it to a lot of four-five footers and missed a lot of them.”
Ko sank a 10-foot par putt at the par-four 14th while Kang missed short par putts at 14 and 15 to leave the New Zealander ahead by two. They each closed with three pars.
“It’s great to be back in contention,” Ko said. “When you keep putting yourself there, you feel like at one point it’s going to fall.
“Just be committed. That’s all I can do. Just enjoy being in that position.”
© Agence France-Presse