US teen Lucy Li birdied six of the last 11 holes to fire a four-under-par 67 and take a one-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the Dana Open.
The 19-year-old prodigy of Chinese heritage stood on 14-under 199 after 54 holes at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio.
After two victories this year on the US women’s developmental tour, Li has already secured a 2023 LPGA berth and hopes to capture her first LPGA victory.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Li said. “I didn’t expect to be here a couple of months ago. I’m just grateful to have this opportunity and whatever happens, will happen.”
Li, who played in the US Women’s Open at age 11, owned a one-stroke lead over compatriot Lexi Thompson and Germany’s Caroline Masson, who each shot 65.
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko fired a 64 to join a fourth-place pack on 202 that includes defending champion Nasa Hataoka of Japan, Australian Hannah Green, South Korean Kim Sei-young, Ireland’s Leona Maguire and China’s Yin Ruoning and Lin Xiyu.
South African Ashleigh Buhai is on six under (T33).
“Overall it was solid play, a good seven under and hopefully a good omen for tomorrow,” Ko said. “I did what I had to do. I’m going to go out there and focus on my game tomorrow and see where that puts me.”
Li shared ninth last week in Canada, her best LPGA finish, to qualify for this week’s event but felt the pressure of leading as she teed off.
“I was a little nervous,” Li said. “I hadn’t felt nervous in a long time. I felt nervous the 1st hole, made bogey there, but after that, I didn’t feel any more nerves.”
She stumbled early with bogeys at the 1st and par-five 7th holes but bounced back with a birdie at the par-three 8th.
“Making those bogeys might have helped a little, getting that out of the way, knowing I could just freewheel it out there,” Li said. “Putts weren’t falling early and getting a few of them to fall coming in helped me down the stretch.”
Li began the back nine with a birdie, added another at the 12th and grabbed the lead with a birdie at the par-three 14th then kept it with birdies at the 16th and par-five 17th, curling in a 12-foot putt on the latter.
“The birdie on 14 was huge, because I just missed a really short putt the hole before,” Li said. “I was a little bit upset about that. It was nice to get one back.”
Li won the inaugural girls 10-11 age group title at the 2014 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National, becoming one of the first female champions of any sort at the home of the Masters.
Thompson, a former teen prodigy chasing her 12th LPGA title and first since 2019, eagled the 9th and reeled off three birdies in a row starting at the 15th.
“It’s the best feeling to know that my hard work has paid off,” said Thompson. “I practise a ton. It does wonders to see it pay off.”
Li was excited to have Thompson with her in the final group.
“I definitely admire her. She’s a super cool player,” Li said. “It will be great to play with her.”
Masson, whose lone LPGA victory came at the 2016 Manulife Classic, birdied the final three holes to finish a bogey-free round and put herself in Sunday’s final trio.
Ko, who seeks her third title at the event after 2014 and 2016, won her 17th career LPGA title in January at Gainbridge.
© Agence France-Presse