WASHINGTON (AFP) — US teen Lucy Li birdied six of the last 11 holes to fire a four-under-par 67 and take a one-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the LPGA Dana Open.
The 19-year-old prodigy of Chinese heritage stood on 14-under 199 after 54 holes at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio.
Yuka Saso stumbled with back-to-back bogeys early on and faded with a one-over-par 72 on moving day.
Just five shots off the pace at the halfway mark, the 21-year-old Filipino-Japanese slipped to joint 46th on 4-under 209, 10 shots behind American Lucy Li.
Saso pounded her tee shots an average of 303 yards but found only five of 14 fairways.
As a consequence, she missed seven of eight 18 greens.
Saso bogeyed 4 and 5 before she birdied the first of two par-5s on 7. She dropped another shot on 16 before she recovered it on the par-5 17th.
After two victories this year on the US women’s developmental tour, Li has already secured a 2023 LPGA berth and hopes to capture her first LPGA victory.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Li said.
“Didn’t expect to be here a couple months ago. I’m just grateful to have this opportunity and whatever happens will happen.”
Li, who played in the US Women’s Open at age 11, owned a one-stroke lead over compatriot Lexi Thompson and Germany’s Caroline Masson, who each shot 65.
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko fired a 64 to join a fourth-place pack on 202 that includes defending champion Nasa Hataoka of Japan, Australian Hannah Green, South Korean Kim Sei-young, Ireland’s Leona Maguire and China’s Yin Ruoning and Lin Xiyu.
“Overall it was solid play, a good 7-under and hopefully a good omen for tomorrow,” Ko said.
“I did what I had to do. I’m going to go out there and focus on my game tomorrow and see where that puts me.”
Li shared ninth last week in Canada, her best LPGA finish, to qualify for this week’s event but felt the pressure of leading as she teed off.
“I was totally a little nervous,” Li said.
“I hadn’t felt nervous in a long time. I felt nervous the first hole, made bogey there, but after that I didn’t feel any more nerves.”
She stumbled early with bogeys at the first and par-5 seventh holes but bounced back with a birdie at the par-3 eighth.
“Making those bogeys might have helped a little, getting that out of the way, knowing I could just freewheel it out there,” Li said.
“Putts weren’t falling early and getting a few of them to fall coming in helped me down the stretch.”
Li began the back nine with a birdie, added another at the 12th and grabbed the lead with a birdie at the par-3 14th then kept it with birdies at the 16th and par-5 17th, curling in a 12-foot putt on the latter.
“The birdie on 14 was huge because I just missed a really short putt the hole before,” Li said.
“I was a little bit upset about that. It was nice to get one back.”
Li won the inaugural girls 10-11 age group title at the 2014 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National, becoming one of the first female champions of any sort at the home of the Masters.
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