Melbourne, Australia (SportsNetwork.com) - Lydia Ko and rookie Ariya Jutanugarn carded matching 1-under 72s in Saturday's third round, keeping the duo in the lead heading into the final day of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open.
Ko and Jutanugarn, who both held a share of the second-round lead along with Ha Na Jang, finished 54 holes at 7-under-par 212 and will enter the final round with a 1-shot lead over Amy Yang.
Ko, the youngest player ever to reach world No. 1 status at 17 years old, has five career victories on the LPGA Tour, including two as an amateur and three more during her rookie season in 2014. Jutanugarn is seeking her first win on tour.
Yang fired a 3-under 70 in her third round on the Composite Course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, vaulting her into sole possession of third place at 6- under 213.
Julieta Granada and Katherine Kirk also shot 70s, putting them in a tie for fourth at 4-under 215. Jang finished with a 3-over 76 and she fell into sixth at minus-3.
Defending champion Karrie Webb managed to shoot a 2-under 71 and she is tied for 27th at 3-over 222. First-round leader Ilhee Lee, who struggled on her way to an 82 in the second round, rebounded with the best round of the day on Saturday with a 4-under 69. She is tied for 13th at even-par 219.
On a day where low scores were at a premium, Ko and Jutanugarn did what they had to do to remain in the lead. After playing the front nine, her back, at even par with nine pars on Friday, Ko basically did the same thing to begin her round Saturday.
The 17-year-old from New Zealand started off with seven straight pars from No. 1 before rolling in her first birdie of the day on the par-4 eighth, which gave her a 1-shot lead at the time. That did not last long, however, as she tripped to a bogey on nine, completing her second straight 35 on the front nine.
Ko made it two bogeys in three holes with another dropped shot on No. 11, but she rebounded after that with a birdie on No. 12.
At the par-5 14th, Ko rolled in a birdie putt to take the lead once again before Jutanugarn made a late gain to even things up. Ko poured in four straight pars from 15 to complete her 72.
"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.'" said Ko. "It's tough when you know that you need to make birdies but you're struggling to make pars. When I made a birdie, I kind of went on a streak of making a bogey and then vice versa, but I finished 1-under par and I think that's good enough."
Jutanugarn got off to a rough start with a bogey on No. 1, but she held strong and drained seven straight pars from two before making her first gain on No. 9. Like Ko, Jutanugarn was also even par for the day when she made the turn.
Following a pair of pars on 10 and 11, Jutanugarn tripped to her second bogey on 12, but that was the last one of the day for her as well.
The 19-year-old from Thailand finished strong. She made a birdie on 14 and later poured in another gain on the par-5 17th, which pulled Jutanugarn even with Ko atop the leaderboard. Jutanugarn ended with a par at the last.
"Today the course was really, really firm," Jutanugarn said. "It's really hard to approach and today I hit my tee shots pretty, but I missed a lot of short putts. First time I saw this golf course, I felt like it's really hard, really challenging. My game plan is be patient and not hit driver and go for it on every hole."
Yang had one of the better rounds on Saturday. She made three birdies on the front nine at two, five and eight to go along with a bogey on seven.
Making the turn at 2-under, Yang made another bogey on 12 before draining an eagle on 14. She traded a bogey on 16 for a birdie on 17 and finished up with a par at the last to grab sole possession of third place.
NOTES: So far this week, Ko has made 24 pars, two birdies and one bogey on the front nine ... Ko's two wins as an amateur came at the 2012 and 2013 CN Canadian Open before she turned pro and won three more times in 2014 ... Ko has held at least a share of the 54-hole lead four times and she has gone on to win once in those four times at the 2012 CN Canadian Open ... Ko has finished tied for second and tied for seventh in her first two events this season ... Jutanugarn finished 11th at the season-opening Coates Golf Championship and then ended runner-up at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic two weeks ago ... Only 12 players finished 54 holes under par, with four more at even par.