(Reuters) - Ko Jin-young surged from behind to earn a one-stroke lead over Kim In-kyung that could have been higher were it not for some late trouble in the third round of the ANA Inspiration in California on Saturday.
The 23-year-old carded a four-under-par 68 on the difficult Mission Hills course in Rancho Mirage to reel in overnight leader Kim in the first women’s major of the season.
Even a double-bogey at the par-three 14th could not dent Ko’s positive outlook after she posted an eight-under 208 total with one round remaining.
“I had a great round still,” she smiled.
While Ko played a great front nine and an average back nine, it was the opposite for Kim, whose four-shot lead starting the day turned into a four-stroke deficit at the turn.
Kim steadied after her double-bogey at the ninth to shoot a 73, however, playing a bogey-free back nine and finishing in style by sinking a six-foot birdie at the last that left her nipping at the heels of her fellow South Korean.
The 18th is the same hole where Kim missed a one-foot putt in the final round that cost her victory in 2012 in one of the most dramatic moments in major history.
“I played quite well on the back nine. I’m surprised I’m still close to the lead,” said Kim, who eventually put her disappointment behind her to win a different major, the 2017 Women’s British Open.
Another Korean, Lee Mi-hyang (68), was boosted by a hole-in-one from 181 yards at the 17th and jumped into a share of third with American Danielle Kang (70), three shots from the lead.
Ko reeled off six birdies in her first 10 holes and surged to a four-stroke lead until disaster struck at the 14th.
The 124-yard hole required no more than a flick with a wedge, but she struck the ball a little heavy and it failed to clear the pond guarding the green.
Ko dropped two shots and gave renewed hope to her pursuers, who had been watching helplessly in the proverbial rear-view mirror as the Korean threatened to run away with it.
But world number five Ko, imbued with self-belief on the back of recent hot form that has taken her to the top of the LPGA money list, displayed composure beyond her years to keep a positive attitude.
“I’m not robot,” she said. “I’m human. I don’t think about bad things.
“This course is really hard, so anybody can miss a shot.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney