Golf: Ko on course to defend title

By Michael Donaldson at Clearwater Resort

Lydia Ko tees off during the New Zealand Open. Photo / Getty
Lydia Ko tees off during the New Zealand Open. Photo / Getty

Lydia Ko lived up to her world No 1 status to take the lead at the New Zealand Women's Open golf tournament at Clearwater Resort on Saturday.

Ko rarely erred as she compiled a five-under par 67 to move to eight-under par as she chases her third title in four years and second on the trot.

She is one clear of French rookie Justine Dreher, who added a 70 to her opening 67 and will join Ko in the final group on Sunday.

While it's old hat for Ko to be leading a tournament, Dreher was preoccupied with searching for a caddie after pushing a trundler she'd nicknamed 'Bob' for the first two rounds.

In her first season as a professional, and with just $4522.88 to her name, the 23-year-old had mixed emotions about joining superstar Ko - career earnings US$5m - in the final round.

"I'm nervous, excited, happy - even warming up next to her was a bit new this morning ... it's all a bit new to me," Dreher confessed.

Ko, 18, was almost impeccable from tee to green and had birdie chances on nearly every hole. She converted six of them. She said there were only "two or three loose shots" in her round and "the crucial one was on 13 when my ball went straight into the deep rough" and she made her only bogey of the day.

Apart from Dreher, Ko's final-round challengers will include her playing partner from the first two days, Emily Pedersen, who is one of the longest hitters in the field and returned the low-round of the day, a six-under 66 to be six-under par alongside fellow Dane Nanna Koertz Madsen and consistent Scot Pamela Prestwell.

There is a large group at five-under par, including second-best Kiwi Liv Cheng and Ko's former New Zealand amateur rival Cecilia Cho, who is now playing under a Korean flag as Jeongmin Cho.

While Ko is exactly where most people expected her to be from the start of this tournament, the defending champion, while happy to be leading, noted she wasn't in the same dominant position as last year. "I don't have that four or five shot lead which is a bummer," she quipped.

She accepted her score could have been much better if a few more mid-range putts had fallen.

"When you have a great ball-striking day, it does frustrate you that you don't make putts but you have to say to yourself, 'hey, I'm giving myself opportunities'."

It's something she is making a pretty good career out of.

- NZ Herald

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