The youth movement remained in full effect Saturday with 17-year-old Rolex World No. 1 Lydia Ko and 19-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn sharing the lead at 7-under at the conclusion of play Saturday.
Both Ko and Jutanugarn owned a share of the lead entering Saturday’s round and emerged with it still in tact after both posted 1-under 72s on a sweltering day at Royal Melbourne.
“I wasn’t hitting it as close today. On the first nine holes, I was hitting greens but I left myself these slopey putts where I was like, ‘two putt is good here.’ It’s tough when you know that you need to make birdies but you’re struggling to make pars,” Ko said. “When I made a birdie, I kind of went on a streak of making a bogey and then vice versa, but I finished one under par and I think that’s good enough.”
It certainly was good enough on a day where Royal Melbourne seemed to bite everyone in the lead pack but Ko and Jutanugarn. Charley Hull, who entered the day two shots back in solid fourth, rose into a tie for the lead at 6-under after birdies on two of her first five holes but four straight bogeys and a double on the back pushed her down to a 1-under-par for the tournament after a third-round 76. Same for Ha Na Jang, who entered the day tied for the lead. She was cruising along tied for the lead with Ko heading into the difficult par-4 12th when an errant tee shot resulted in a triple bogey that forced her into a 76 as well.
However, Ko and Jutanugarn emerged unscathed to form a fierce teen final pairing playing as well as any two players in the game this season. Ko, the No. 1 player in the world, has back-to-back top10s to her credit to open the year and held the lead heading into the final round of the season opener but made a costly double bogey at the 17th to finish in a tie for second. Jutanugarn also narrowly missed a win already this season, losing in a three-way playoff at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic two weeks ago.
“I’ve had the chance to be the leader before, but my plan is to do my best. Whatever happens, I’ll just take it,” she said.
Ko, the five-time career winner, has held at least a share of the lead four times in her career but has held on for the victory only once with that win coming at the 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open. Each of her four wins since have been through Sunday comebacks - three of which were the low round of the day on Sunday. Jutanugarn has only had to sleep on a third round lead once in her career - the 2013 Honda LPGA Thailand, where she finished in second.
Amy Yang sits just one shot back of the co-leaders after a solid 3-under 70. Katherine Kirk and Julieta Granada are three shots back to round out the top five after both posted 3-under 70s on Saturday to climb into within ear shot of the leaders at 4-under.