Ji grabs LPGA lead as Ko, Lewis charge into hunt


Los Angeles (AFP)

South Korea's Ji Eun-Hee, seeking her first victory since the 2009 US Women's Open, fired a bogey-free seven-under par 65 to seize a one-stroke lead after the third round of the LPGA Founders Cup.

But world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand, fourth-ranked American Stacy Lewis and Spain's Carlota Ciganda each fired 64s at Phoenix, Arizona, to charge into contention with the first major of the women's season just two weeks away at Rancho Mirage, California.

Ji finished on 18-under 198 after 54 holes with Lewis and South Korean 36-hole leader Kim Sei-Young sharing second on 199, American Jacqui Concolino fourth on 200 and 18-year-old Seoul-born Kiwi Ko sharing fifth on 201 with Ciganda and American Paula Creamer.

Ji birdied the fifth and seventh holes, then had back-to-back birdies at nine and 10. She also sandwiched birdies at the par-3 14th and 17th holes around another at the par-5 15th.

"My putting was really good," Ji said. "My iron shots were really good, too because I was really struggling with them the last couple of weeks.

"I didn't think about that score. I just tried my best on every shot and just tried to focus on my game."

Ko and Lewis each made eight birdies in a bogey-free round while Ciganda had an eagle and six birdies.

"The leaders, they were holing a lot of putts, and that's what I wasn't doing the first two days, and I was a lot better today," Ko said.

"When you're a leader and you know you're already shooting 5-under through, what, like six, seven holes, you've got the confidence and every fairway it looks like you're going to hit it, and every putt it almost seems like it's going to go in the hole."

Lewis opened with a birdie, birdied the par-5 fifth and closed the front nine with a birdie. She birdied the par-5 11th, 13 and the par-5 15th to start a closing run of three birdies over the final four holes.

"These scores are ridiculous," Lewis said. "You just go out there and make as many birdies as you can."

The tournament record is 23-under par set by Lewis in her 2013 triumph.

Lewis switched to a new putter in Friday's second round after making only three birdies Thursday. She made eight birdies in round two and again Saturday.

"I putted terrible on Thursday. I just kind of said, 'Why not?'" Lewis said. "I hit it good but you start hitting better shots when you know you can make a 10- or 15-footer."

- Ko 'might be a chef' -

Ko birdied three of the first five holes and three of the last six to move into contention at an event that pays tribute to the pioneer women players who formed the LPGA Tour.

"What the Founders did to just bring out women's golf, that's just amazing," Ko said. "It's just what they've done to make my dreams come true. If it wasn't for them, who knows, I might not be a golfer. I might be a chef or whatever. We're just so thankful to them."

Ciganda had a run of three birdies in four holes on the front nine, eagled 11 and then made three birdies in a row starting at 13.

"That was really good, to make an eagle on that par-5," she said. "I made a 15-meter putt. And then on 13 with the tee up, I put it on the green, two-putted for birdie and then it was really good on 14 and 15."