MIAMI (AFP) — Olympic champion Inbee Park of South Korea fired a four-under-par 67 to seize a two-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the season-opening Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tournament of Champions.
Park had a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3 18th hole to grab a four-shot lead but rolled the ball four feet past the cup and missed her comeback putt for her first bogey of the week to finish on 13-under 200 after 54 holes at Four Seasons Orlando.
That left the 31-year-old from Seoul only two ahead of fifth-ranked compatriot Kim Sei-young, who also fired a 67, with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka third on 203 and France’s Celine Boutier another stroke adrift.
“It was a really good day out there,” Park said. “My ball striking was flawless. I didn’t make any mistakes.”
“I wish my putter could have followed up a little bit better, especially three-putting there on the last hole was a little disappointing.”
“But overall, play was pretty good. I’ve played really solid golf for the past three days.”
The seven-time major winner Park, seeking her 20th career LPGA title, is trying to earn a chance to defend her Rio Olympic gold medal later this year at Tokyo.
Park is only ranked 16th and trailing five compatriots in her quest for one of four possible spots on the South Korean women’s Olympic golf squad.
“I’m playing some good golf,” Park said. “Hopefully that gets me where I want.”
A victory would boost her Olympic bid and her confidence entering the season.
“It would mean a lot, giving me a lot of confidence going into the season,” Park said. “Having a win in my 30s will be big for me. I hope I can keep this going.”
Park, who began the day sharing the lead with Brooke Henderson, opened with six pars while the Canadian stumbled, following an opening birdie with a double bogey at the par-3 third and bogeys at the fourth and par-5 seventh.
After birdies at the seventh and par-3 ninth, Park made three birdies in a row at the par-5 13th, par-3 14th and par-4 15th, stretching her lead to three strokes before her closing bogey.
Kim, who began the day two off the lead, birdied the sixth and got hot on the back nine. She birdied the 12th and answered a bogey at the par-5 13th with four birdies in a row before a closing bogey.
Hataoka birdied the par-5 13th and 17th on the back nine to charge into contention with a 68.
France’s Boutier holed out from the fairway on the fly at the par-4 16th to sandwich an eagle between bogeys at 15 and 18 to shoot 69 and stand fourth. Her ball struck the cup with such force at 16 that course workers had to repair it.