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Thai starlet thunders to Open lead

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Woburn (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Ariya Jutanugarn is a thunderous hitter and she powered her way to the top of the leaderboard with a third-round 66 in the Women’s British Open on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Thai, who won three tournaments in a row on the LPGA Tour in May, had a flawless six-birdie round, including a chip in from the edge of the green at the short eighth.

Her 16-under-par 200 total is a 54-hole record for the championship and she leads by two shots from South Korea’s Mirim Lee, who had led after the first round and at halfway and stayed well in touch with a 69.

American Mo Martin, the 2014 champion, is one of the shortest from the tee on Tour but she proved she is something of a British Open specialist with a 69 for third place on 11 under par. Catriona Matthew, with a 71, was the top Briton on 10 under.

Jutanugarn played in her first LPGA event when she was just 11 -- she was the youngest ever qualifier at the Thailand LPGA Classic -- but last season’s rookie season was ruined by a shoulder injury caused by pranking around with a water bottle in a play fight with her older sister.

A household name back home in Thailand, Jutanugarn grew up admiring Tiger Woods -- as she pointed out, he has Thai heritage -- and she has already carved out her own little bit of history.

Her win in the Volvik Championship in Michigan in May was the first by a Thai player on the LPGA Tour. Now she wants to break another barrier and become the first to lift a women’s major.

"I played really well and now I’m looking forward to tomorrow," said a smiling Jutanugarn, who was so laid back on the course in Woburn that she even borrowed a spectator’s chair to take a rest during a hold-up in play.

“I want to be relaxed. I don’t think it is pressure for me leading the championship. I just want to have fun.”

Lee, 25, had four birdies to stay in touch, while Martin, who missed her defence last year due to injury, also had four birdies.

World No.1 Lydia Ko had her best round of the championship with a three-under-par 69, although a double-bogey at the 18th rather spoiled her otherwise flawless card.

“I wasn’t putting great the first two days, but some started to fall today,” said the New Zealand 19-year-old who currently holds two major titles.

"It was a tough way to finish but hopefully I can go even lower tomorrow.”

Ireland’s Leona Maguire, with a terrific 68, was the leading amateur on seven under par.

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