There were plenty of red numbers on the leaderboard on Saturday at the BMW Ladies Championship in Wonju, Republic of Korea and one of those belonged to two-time LPGA Tour winner Atthaya Thitikul. The 19-year-old fired a 5-under 67 on Moving Day with six birdies and one bogey on the card, five of which came in her final nine holes with three consecutive birdies made on holes 13, 14 and 15. That late push on the back side of Oak Valley Country Club helped her recapture the lead, and it’s only the second time in her career that Thitikul has held the 54-hole lead or co-lead. The last time she did so was at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G where Thitikul collected her second LPGA Tour title after defeating Danielle Kang in a playoff with a birdie on the second extra hole. Being in contention is old hat at this point for the teenager, and while a third victory is within reach, the rookie will take a veteran’s mindset with her to the first tee on Sunday.
“It's always been hard to be in the final group, but aside from that, it means your work is paying (off), as well. So just keep doing your thing again,” said Thitikul, who became a Rolex First-Time Winner earlier this year at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol. “You can be in contention every week, but you can't win every week so just do real solid, just do your best out there and enjoy the last 18 holes, then I'm heading back home.”
Thitikul has a shot to head home to Thailand as No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings if she wins or finishes solo fourth or better in the BMW Ladies Championship and would become the first Thai player since Ariya Jutanugarn in 2019 to accomplish the feat. A victory would also extend her lead in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race as well as give her a boost up the Player of the Year standings. But Thitikul isn’t concerned with any of that as the final round looms large in Wonju, remaining focused on the 18 holes she still has in front of her.
“To be honest, I don't really care about the ranking. I don't really care to be like No. 1 in the world at all because I play golf because I want to take care of my family,” she said. “I want to feed my family. Whatever I am is fine. Even my family, they have a good life already. Ranking is not that important for me for real.”
Sitting in a tie for second are 2022 AmazingCre Portland Classic winner Andrea Lee and 17-time LPGA Tour winner Lydia Ko. Ko fired a bogey-free, 6-under, 66 on Moving Day, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, her best ball-striking performance so far this week. The 25-year-old has had 8 top-five finishes in her last eleven starts and is looking to add to her 2022 trophy count, a win that would be much overdue considering how solid she’s played as of late.
“It seems like there's always been a few low scores, so you hope that that's in your back pocket,’ said Ko. “I've just got to play my own game. There are so many players within reach, and with golf, who knows how many shots behind you can be and you're still in position to be able to win. I don't know what I'm going to finish at the end of today or how many shots behind, but if I am confident and playing the best golf I can, and if somebody plays better than me, I can't do too much about that.”
Lee had an up-and-down day in round three, making three bogeys and five birdies to post a 2-under, 70 and sit one back of the lead. Sunday would mark 35 days since Lee became a Rolex First-Time Winner in Portland and while earning a second victory so quickly would be incredibly special for the 24-year-old, it would be even more special to win in the Republic of Korea and in front of her extended family, especially her 91-year-old grandfather.
“I'm going to see my grandpa maybe finally tomorrow. My parents have been out here supporting me, rooting for me, giving me snacks every five holes,” she said. “It would mean the world to get a second win here in Korea, but I'm not going to try to think too much ahead and just going to stay really patient, and we'll see what happens.”
Epson Tour graduate Lilia Vu is in solo fourth at -13 after finishing with a 3-under 69 that saw her make 7 birdies and four bogeys. Rookie Hye-Jin Choi and Wonju native Hyo Joo Kim sit in a tie for fifth at -12, carding matching 6-under 66s. Korean amateur Minsol Kim is alone in seventh at -11 with Ariya Jutanugarn, who won a BMW vehicle after making a hole-in-one on the 171-yard par-3, 17th, is one back of Kim in eighth. There are four players are tied for ninth at -9 rounding out the top 10.