American Nelly Korda reacts after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green to seize a four-stroke lead after the third round of the LPGA Drive On Championship (Julio Aguilar)
Reigning Olympic champion Nelly Korda eagled the 17th hole and birdied the last to seize a four-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the LPGA Drive On Championship.
The 25-year-old hometown hero and daughter of former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda finished with a flourish to fire a three-under par 68 and stand on 13-under 200 after 54 holes at Bradenton Country Club.
Clinging to a one-stroke lead at the par-5 17th, Korda blasted out of a greenside bunker, her shot rolling in for an eagle.
At 18, Korda had a testy breaking birdie putt from 15 feet and rolled it into the hole for a four-stroke advantage.
“Just a confidence boost knowing I can climb up the leaderboard and stay in contention,” Korda said.
“Definitely didn’t have the great start. I was one back after nine holes and then kind of turned it around.”
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, Japan’s Ayaka Furue and American Megan Khang shared second on 204.
World number four Korda, who led by two after 36 holes, birdied the par-5 sixth but stumbled with bogeys at the par-3 seventh and par-5 eighth.
Korda birdied the 13th to seize a one-stroke lead, setting up her late heroics.
“I was hitting good solid putts. Just with the wind it was hard to judge,” Korda said. “Birdied the par-5 then snap hooked my next two tee shots, which ended up both of them being bogeys.
“And then just had a fresh attitude coming into the back nine. I mean, it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. Hopefully I can lead that into tomorrow.”
Korda seeks her ninth career LPGA title and first since the 2022 Pelican Women’s Championship. Her last worldwide crown came last year in a Ladies European Tour event in London.
Forecasts of bad weather Sunday have prompted organizers to put the final round into threesomes off two tees.
Ninth-ranked Ko, coming off her 20th career LPGA triumph at last week’s season-opening Tournament of Champions, birdied the second and third holes and answered a bogey at the fifth with birdies at the par-3 seventh and ninth holes.
But Ko stumbled with a bogey at 14, the day’s toughest hole, to fall behind Korda.
“It was really windy,” Ko said. “It didn’t really die down until we were on the last hole. You just have to play with what you get. I saw plenty of good rounds this morning and that gave me the confidence that I could shoot a good score too.”
– ‘It would mean a lot’ –
Ko seeks a victory that would give her the final point she needs to become the 35th player to reach the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“I feel like I’m so close I’m got to keep working away at it and if it happens it’s great,” Ko said. “I’m sure if I’m in contention coming down the stretch or leading that thought will come into the back of my mind.
“It would mean a lot. I honestly didn’t ever imagine that I would be one of the names that would be in the Hall of Fame. To even have that opportunity is awesome.”
Khang eagled the par-5 eighth, began the back nine with her lone bogey then birdied four of the final seven holes to move into contention.
“Wind is definitely challenging,” Khang said. “For the most part, stayed pretty steady out there. Hopefully it kind of trends into tomorrow.”
Furue birdied the eighth and 13th in a bogey-free round.