Apr. 17—Lydia Ko edged Nelly Korda at the tape to take the lead after the third round of a Lotte Championship that has turned into a track meet.
Ko and Korda continued their record-breaking pace through 54 holes at Kapolei Golf Club on Friday to separate from the pack heading into what shapes up to be a charge to the finish today.
Korda played two groups ahead of Ko on Friday as they traded birdies and the tournament lead throughout their back nine. Seemingly each time Korda moved ahead with a birdie putt, Ko would answer moments later.
The duel lasted all the way through Kapolei's 18th, where Korda poured in her 10th birdie of the day to cap a round of 9-under-par 63 to move to 20 under for the tournament.
As Korda was wrapping up her post-round media interviews, Ko was heading to the finishing hole and got a 12-foot downhill putt to curl into the cup to close out her 7-under 65 and claimed the solo lead and the tournament's 54-hole record at 21 under.
She passed the previous mark of 17-under 199 set by Su-Yeon Jang in 2017 down the road at Ko Olina Golf Club.
Cristie Kerr's 72-hole record of 20 under 268, also set in 2017, is also likely to fall today.—RELATED :—RELATED :
While the scoreboards dispersed around Kapolei Golf Club helped Ko and Korda keep track of each other's progress on Friday, they'll match up in today's final pairing at 1 :15 p.m.
"Every time I look at the leaderboard I'm like, 'Oh, my God. Somebody shot 8 under, 6 under, or more, ' " said Ko, who birdied four of her final five holes on Friday. "So when you see so many birdies, obviously it kind of gives you the confidence that, 'Hey, the birdies are out there.' At the same time, I think you just can't push it trying to force stuff in. You have to play to your game. Especially when scores can be that low, I think ... I have to stick to my strategy and my game plan and see where it goes."
Korda surged to a 30 on her front nine on Friday and made the run at the tournament's single-round record with three birdies in her last four holes to set up a final pairing of two seasoned champions still in their early 20s on torrid scoring runs.
Going back to her 62 to cap a runner-up finish at the ANA Inspiration two weeks ago, Ko, a former world No. 1 with 15 career victories, has played her last 72 holes at 31 under par.
Korda, ranked fourth in the world at age 22, isn't far off Ko's pace over her last 72 holes, going 26 under over that stretch, starting with a 66 to finish third at ANA.
"Front nine I played really well. I just capitalized on all the opportunities I gave myself, " said Korda, who needed 25 putts in all three rounds. "I hit all my greens on that nine. I made a little bit of a stupid mistake on No. 10, but other than that I think I played solid all day. I did leave a couple out there, so it's kind of crazy."
Korda will play in the final group for the second time in as many trips to Hawaii. She was tied with Brooke Henderson for the 54-hole lead in 2019 but shot a 77 in the final round to finish in eighth. She has three top-3 finishes in five starts in 2021, with a win at the Gainbridge LPGA in February for the fourth victory of her career.
"Definitely with nerves, the more you get under your belt the better, " Korda said. "You just kind of learn to relax a little bit more. I've always said the more you put yourself into those positions the better it is. You learn the most out of putting yourself into those type of under-pressure situations."
Ko started Friday's round two shots behind Yuka Saso and moved ahead when the 19-year-old struggled on her front nine.
Saso, a sponsor invite, had missed just three greens in regulation in the first 36 holes but was forced to scramble early in Friday's round and bogeyed three of her first five holes. She steadied herself on the back nine to get back to finish with a 71 and will enter the final round four shots behind Ko at 17 under.
"I think I'm still in a learning stage and I think I'm doing good with learning from other pros, " said Saso, who plays on the Japan LPGA and could accept LPGA Tour membership with a win today.
"I wasn't really hitting a bad shot. Just didn't really go to where I wanted to be. But it's just—that's how golf is. So I was just ... being patient and trust the process."
Saso will play in today's penultimate group with Leona Maguire, who eagled from the fairway on No. 15 to get to 16 under.
"I think more so when the scoring has been fairly low around this golf course, you can't really take anyone out of it, " Ko said.