American Rose Zhang took a one-shot lead at the Maybank Championship on Saturday after a masterful third round to pull ahead of Thai duo Atthaya Thitikul and Jasmine Suwannapura.
Zhang (20) shot a round of 65 for an 18-under 198, while Thitikul fired home the week’s lowest score of 62. Suwannapura, who led the first two rounds, finished with a 67.
But the day belonged to the American rookie, who has swiftly moved up the ranks from third to first, and secured a deserved lead thanks to eight birdies she sunk at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.
Zhang’s top spot was secured largely due to a strong start which saw her notch five birdies on the front nine.
A bogey on the par-four 14th hole was a blemish on her scorecard, but did little to harm an overall solid round where she finished with a birdie on the final hole.
“I feel really great. I just feel like being able to have this opportunity to come into the final round with a little bit of a lead is really great,” said Zhang, who is bidding to win her second LPGA Tour title since turning pro in May.
“I think that going forward it’s just making sure I’m having fun, having that game plan, and enjoying every simple moment.”
For Thitikul and Suwannapura, the mission will be to stay hot on the American’s heels and capitalise on any slip-up in the final round.
All three golfers were tied at the top heading into the final hole, before Zhang’s birdie on the 18th allowed her to pull away.
But Thitikul will go into the final round with confidence having netted 10 birdies in an error-free scorecard.
The 20-year-old was grounded when asked about her title charge.
“If it happens I would be happy. But if it’s not, I am still happy with the result for the effort I have put in this week,” she said.
Suwannapura, who led the first two rounds, was satisfied with her round despite losing her lead.
“Even though I didn’t hit it too close, there is still a chance to make birdie, so I never gave up on it,” she said.
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai is four-under 212 (four under) after a round of 70.
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