Miami (AFP) – Britain’s Charley Hull, who has not won in more than two years, fired a six-under-par 66 to grab a one-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the LPGA Tour Championship.
The 20-year-old from England birdied the course’s four par-5 holes — the first, sixth, 14th and 17th — and the par-4 10th and 13th as well in a bogey-free round to stand on 13-under 203 after 54 holes in the season-ending event.
“Just kind of kept in the zone,” Hull said. “I felt like I hit it pretty decent. I holed a few putts and got up and down when I needed to.”
American Brittany Lincicome also fired a 66 at Tiburon Golf Club to stand second on 204 alongside South Korean Ryu So-Yeon, who shot 69 on the Naples, Florida, layout.
New Zealand’s world number one Lydia Ko had a chance to grab a share of the lead with a birdie on the closing hole but took a bogey to finish a round of 73 and share fourth on 205 with South Korea’s Chun In-Gee, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn and Americans Jennifer Song and Lizette Salas.
“It’s not far off. I had plenty of quality shots. The feel is still there,” Ko said. “Hopefully a couple balls on the range and I’ll be able to have that feeling back.”
– Ko, Ariya chase top prizes –
The stumble left Ko, 19, second in the race for the $1 million playoff bonus behind Ariya entering the final round. Ko also must win to overcome world number two Ariya for LPGA Player of the Year honors.
“No matter what position I’m in, I’m the chaser,” Ko said. “I think that almost puts less pressure on me, where I’m not thinking about where I am exactly. I’m trying to make as many birdies as I can and give myself those opportunities.
“It’s going to be a very interesting Sunday.”
Ariya says she will be pleased no matter what happens on Sunday.
“This year is like great for me,” Ariya said. “I know tomorrow there’s going to be a lot of pressure, but I’m just going to do my best and whatever going to happen I still love my year.”
Hull recorded her best career major finish this year, sharing second at the ANA Inspiration, the best of her four top-10 showings this season. She found the course vulnerable while others struggled.
“It was scorable out there,” Hull said. “I don’t understand why everyone has dropped back.”
Hull, ranked 29th, seeks her first title since winning the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Meryem Cup at Morocco in March of 2014 at age 17. But she will try to play Sunday’s final round like any other.
“Just as another normal round. Just keep in the zone, keep on quite straight in my tempo,” Hull said.
Lincicome, whose most recent win was the 2015 Inspiration crown, birdied the second, fourth, sixth and eighth holes before a bogey at the ninth. On the back nine, she birdied three of the first five holes and answered a bogey at 16 with a birdie at the 17th.
“It has been pretty yucky, so to finish even in the top 10 this week would be a pretty fantastic way to cap off the year,” Lincicome said.
Ryu birdied the second hole but took her lone bogey at the third before bouncing back with birdies at six and seven. She birdied the par-3 12th and closed with six pars in a row to stay on Hull’s heels.
Ko, who led after a course-record 62 Friday, also went birdie-bogey at two and three but could not recover as well, taking bogey at the seventh before a birdie at the par-3 eighth. She made another bogey at 15 but responded with a birdie at 17 before a closing bogey.
Ko won her second major title this year at the Inspiration and took her third New Zealand Women’s Open crown as well.