New Zealand’s Lydia Ko has delivered a potential knock-out blow to a high-quality field at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International by equalling the course record at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club with a scorching round of 63.
Ko matched the nine-under-par mark set by Australian Steph Kyriacou in the international team event at the King Abdullah Economic City course in Saudi Arabia this time last year – and her brilliance saw her forge four shots clear on 16-under going into Sunday’s last round.
Yet while Ko rattled in 10 birdies, Australia’s major-winning Minjee Lee had her outside hopes of challenging ruined by another visit to the water at the par-five final hole.
On Friday, Lee ended up with a triple-bogey eight there after making the wrong sort of splash and another bogey at the last on Saturday meant she ended up with a 71 and a four-under par total – now a dozen shots off the pace.
“They were mental errors, not really swing errors,” shrugged Lee, adding with a rueful smile: “I won’t miss any of the water here.”
Australia’s leading performer was Whitney Hillier, who’s nine behind in joint-sixth place after her two-under 70.
“The only bogey I made was on the first, so a steady day overall,” said the Western Australian.
“I got so many chances but I never really got it going. I’m still pretty positive, though, and I’m going to go for it tomorrow.”
Like Ko’s other pursuers, though, Hillier may feel as if she’s fighting for second as New Zealand’s former world No.1 used her anger at dropping a shot on the third to fuel the rest of a round in which she then reeled off 10 birdies in 15 holes.
“I played really solid today, I missed a short putt for par on three, and then I got really angry and went on a stretch of birdies,” said world No.7 Ko.
“I’ve just got to keep playing aggressively. This is a course where players are playing well, so I’m just trying to make my share out there and see what happens.”
Four shots behind Ko is the Ladies European Tour’s Race to Costa del Sol leader Atthaya Thitikul, who carded her best round of the week so far with a 65.
Kyriacou shot a 68 to lie in joint 21st on three-under and knows she’ll have to get her record back if she wants to get anywhere near Ko.
“I could destroy it tomorrow with a nice little 59,” she noted wryly.