NAPLES, FLA | Lydia Ko finally has a challenger. Saturday morning, Ko commanded a five-shot lead over the field, but by late afternoon Leona Maguire had shot a sensational, bogey-free 9-under 63 to take a share of the lead at 15-under par. Though the gallery may have been shocked by the show that Maguire put on, Ko was not.
“Every time I looked it looked like (Leona) made another birdie,” Ko said after shooting a 2-under 70 in the third round. “But she’s such a clutch player. We have the top 60 players on the LPGA Tour playing this week, so you know that everyone’s going to make a run for it. She obviously did that today.”
Ko knows any player could make a run tomorrow during the final round at Tiburon Golf Club. She shares a five-shot lead over the field with Maguire, but she doesn’t see it as a dog fight between the two of them. After all, 18-holes is a lot of golf left to play.
“(Leona) wasn’t second coming into today,” Ko said. “She was more shots behind and then she caught up. That could totally be the case tomorrow where somebody takes advantage and plays really well and they’re right up there as well. I don’t think you can take anybody out of it.
“It’s never over until that last putt drops for every single player and I don’t think you can count anybody out. Clearly, the last three days have shown that somebody’s shot a really low score. Who knows how far back you are to still be in contention.”
Ko had that mindset coming into Saturday, even though she commanded the same five-shot lead. She hit the driving range in the morning with her sister, coach, caddy and a physical therapist in tow, ready to tweak whatever needed tweaking. Ko hit several iron shots with a ball between her hands and a stick behind her back.
“Having the ball between my hands is something I always do in my routine every day, no matter if I’ve shot 66 the day before or 76,” Ko said. “That’s just part of my routine. It’s more awareness rather than working on anything.”
Ko’s third-round 70 may seem meager in comparison to her 65 and 66 in rounds one and two, but she has been playing very consistently throughout all three days. Her 255.5 yards off the tee in round three is just shy of her 260.5 yards off the tee when she went 7-under in round one. She needed 27, 25 and 28 putts to get through rounds one, two and three respectively.
“I honestly think between yesterday to today is probably not that much of a difference with how I played the golf course,” Ko said of her third round. “Maybe a couple birdie opportunities that may have gone in the last couple of days that didn’t (today), but I feel like I’ve been hitting it really solid and putting it solid. They’re going fall in some days or they’re not.
“I don't think anybody has a perfect four days so you just got to be aware that you might hit a bad shot or a bad putt or misread, but you walk away from that, and I think I’ve done that a lot better. Obviously, it is frustrating when you can’t take advantage of the par fives when you’ve hit it close, but I know that I still played solid.
“I’m just going to put 100% intention into whatever shot I have in front of me and then know if it goes my way, great, if not, I just have to move on to the next one.”
Saturday was just one of those rounds Ko had to battle through. Luckily, she came out on the other side unscathed and with a more exciting finish in store. No matter what, the same Lydia Ko will be out there on the range tomorrow with a ball between her hands and stick behind her back.
“I just want to play steady golf and have fun out there,” Ko said. “Obviously, it’s great to be in contention at the last event of the year, especially with so many things coming down the line tomorrow. Honestly, I’m happy with the way I played the last few days. Hopefully I’ll continue to play solid tomorrow and give myself good opportunities.”