(Reuters) - South Korean Lee Mi-rim maintained her lead at the Kia Classic for the third successive day after a six-under-par 66 gave her a one-stroke edge on Saturday heading into the final round in southern California.
Lee entered the third round tied with Morgan Pressel but blew past her with a sizzling five birdies on the back nine to push her to 16-under at the Aviara course in Carlsbad.
The 24-year-old won twice in her rookie season on the LPGA circuit last year, but is looking for her first title in 2015.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know what I shot until I signed my scorecard,” Lee told reporters. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience and played in a lot of tournaments to know that I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself.”
American Alison Lee also fired a six-under with birdies on her final two holes to get to 15-under and outright second.
American Pressel faded after an even-par round that kept her at 10-under, while compatriot Cristie Kerr is one of two contenders at 13-under after a bogey on her final hole dropped her three behind.
A group of four players sit at 12-under including world number one Lydia Ko and major champions Paula Creamer and Pak Se-ri.
New Zealand’s Ko enjoyed her 27th successive LPGA Tour round under par, which is two short of Annika Sorenstam’s record set in 2004.
The South Korean-born 17-year-old has victories this year at the Australian and New Zealand Opens.
On a day of low scoring, five-time major champion Pak owned the best round of the day with a course record-tying eight-under-par 64.
“No question about it, it’s very fun to play like that,” Pak said.
Lexi Thompson shot 65 to move to 11-under.
Editing by Peter Rutherford