A fantastic closing-stretch duel worthy of a final round ended Saturday’s third round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic with Stacy Lewis in the lead by a shot over Lydia Ko.
Lewis and Ko traded birdies on back-to-back holes, a couple of them in unlikely fashion, before Lewis pulled ahead by a shot at the 17th thanks to a third straight birdie that Ko couldn’t match from off the green.
Jenny Shin ended Saturday four shots off the lead, having pulled into contention largely on the strength of four birdies in a six-hole span from Nos. 6-11. Shin had bogeyed Nos. 4-5 but had nothing but birdies and pars the rest of the way, including at Nos. 6-7 to quickly get back to even par, en route to a 68.
Here are 5 Things to know about Saturday’s round at Lake Merced:
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1. KO VS. LEWIS, PART I: At the par-3 15th, Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis took their tee shots tied at 7 under. Ko missed the green as Lewis hit one to nearly certain birdie range, 5-6 feet.
Would the teen fall a shot behind the veteran? No way. Ko chipped in for birdie to take the lead and put the pressure on Lewis’ short putt. No problem, though, as Lewis answered by sinking the putt – even egging on cheers from the crowd before bumping fists with Ko. The co-leaders built a two-shot lead.
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2. KO VS. LEWIS, PART II: From the fairway at the par-4 16th, the tables turned. This time Lewis missed the mark, finding the green but pulling her shot back and left away from the front-right pin. Ko then was on the mark and it to birdie range, inside 10 feet.
Lewis was up to the task, much like Ko a hole earlier: The long birdie putt fell for the Arkansas product as she took a brief lead. Ko then completed the role reversal by making her shorter birdie putt to immediately rejoin the lead. That gave the competitors a three-shot edge.
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3. KO VS. LEWIS, THE EPILOGUE: When Ko missed the green at the par-4 17th and Lewis hit her approach to about 10 feet, one had to practically expect another long-and-short birdie tradeoff. Indeed, Ko’s chip stayed on line with the flag for some time before dropping low and running a bit past. Lewis stepped up and sank her putt for her third straight birdie and a one-stroke lead.
At the 18th, Lewis played three solid shots but missed her birdie putt just a bit long and low, after which Ko took aim and missed a bit short and low. The pars left Lewis with a 68, her best round of the week after opening 69-69, and a one-shot edge going into Sunday.
“The game plan doesn’t change. I’d say that we’re going to be watching each other tomorrow, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Lewis told Golf Channel after the round with Ko by her side, both smiling often as they spoke. “We’re playing some good golf, and I think the fans had fun too.”
Ko admitted she’ll be a bit nervous Sunday.
“I try to play as consistent as possible. Stacy makes a birdie, I feel like I need to make one as well . . . I think it’s kind of a poker-face thing, but I’ll be a little nervous out there, but just try to have fun and keep watching Stacy’s good golf.”
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4. PARK’S PROBLEMS: Inbee Park, a three-time major winner in 2013 who moved into contention this week with a second-round 68, slid a bit Saturday when she carded a 73. Her troubles took place on the front nine, with three bogeys and no birdies before the turn.
Park nearly erased all the miscues as she came down the stretch, managing birdies at Nos. 15 and 17. But a birdie try from the fringe at the 18th stayed on the edge as she carded her second 73 of the week. That left her T-9 at 2 under.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Hee Young Park shot 68 while moving to fourth at 5 under, while Shanshan Feng also shot 68 to move to a tie for fifth at 4 under with P.K. Kongkraphan. . . . Kongkraphan shot 70 Saturday on the strength of three birdies in her first four holes, managing just two bogeys and a birdie the rest of the way. . . . First-round leader Karine Icher shot 73 to drop to T-5 at 4 under, her second straight round over par since opening with 66. . . . Suzann Pettersen, making her return from time off because of a back injury, turned in an uncharacteristic 79; she went 6 over through her first 12 holes en route to dropping to T-40 at 5 over. . . . Michelle Wie carded her first under-par round of the week, a 71 moving her to T-13 at 1 under.