INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA | Charley Hull and Danielle Kang both shot 68s on Saturday to reach 12-under par and share the lead going into the final round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. But watch out for a player lurking only two shots back.
Lydia Ko, looking more comfortable and confident than she has since her victory in April at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in San Francisco, shot 68 on Saturday with three missed 6-footers and one three-putt for par. Throughout, she looked happy and relaxed, like the Lydia Ko who sat atop the world rankings for 104 weeks and was near the top of the leaderboard in almost every event.
“It’s nice because I haven’t really been a leader (this week),” Ko said after her round on Saturday. “I was kind of above average on the leaderboard on the first day. But I definitely think I’ve been playing under the radar, just kind of working my way up.
“On the first day, I tried to put myself under par,” she said. “That was really important for those (cold and windy) conditions.” She achieved that goal, shooting 70.
“Yesterday I said, hey, I think just by seeing the pin positions, 4 under is probably a really good score.” She shot 68. “Goal achieved,” she said.
“I went out today thinking 4 under again was the score. Maybe I should have set the goal at like 6 or 7 under, because I keep goal achieving but it could have been better. Obviously with so many big names and Sung Hyun (Park) being a crowd favorite, a lot of attention is on her. In some ways, that’s good because when I’m out there, I’m just trying to play the best I can.
It might not show up on the stats yet but Ko has gotten considerably longer. She drove the 15th green the last two days, hitting shots that require a 240-yard carry. That’s a shot she didn’t have a couple of years ago. Now, with a leaner and more athletic body and a golf swing we haven’t seen since she was a 15-year-old, Ko is freewheeling.
“The more times you see your ball going on the fairway, I feel like the more confident you are and the more speed you can create,” she said. “The shot on 15, I ripped it and it was probably one of the straightest drives I hit all day. The good thing is, I know that even if I try and have that second gear, I’m able to still hit it straight enough so I’m able to rip it a little bit more than I used to.
“At the end of the day, it’s more of that confidence,” Ko said. “When you just see your ball go in the fairway, you’re able to let it go and not be so tentative through the ball. I realize now that I’m still going to miss it if I hit it slowly and tentatively. So I might as well be confident and give it a good rip.
“It’s kind of like a visualization thing. I’ve been working hard with my trainer and physio. And, sure, you try and control it, but you also try to create more speed.”
A longer Lydia Ko with confidence and a still stellar short game will be someone to watch closely. Maybe as early as tomorrow.