Lydia Ko is a round away from returning to the winner's circle on the LPGA Tour.
Ko, who hasn't claimed victory since April 2018, holds a four-shot lead going into the final round of the Marathon Classic in Ohio.
Tied for the lead after the opening round and ahead by one through two low-scoring rounds, Ko produced a steady three-under par round of 68 today to move to 16-under and extend that advantage to four over Danielle Kang, with closest rivals Kang (70) and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (73) failing to keep pace.
Ko acknowledged she struggled off the tee for the first eight holes before finding her groove, and also struggled with a back injury which saw her receive treatment on the course.
"I think it's a one-off thing. Seven years on Tour, maybe that's what's happening," joked the 23-year-old.
"I don't think there's been many times where I've needed treatment while playing. It might be lingering tomorrow but that's the last thing I need to worry about – I need to go out there, swing freely, and not worry about it."
Ko has won twice at the Marathon Classic before, in 2014 and 2016, but has struggled to find her world-best form in recent years. After her 2016 victory, she had won 14 times in her first 81 starts on the LPGA Tour, but since, she has claimed just one victory in her last 88 events, as she slumped to her lowest world ranking – 55th – in nearly six years.
That is almost certain to rise after her performance this week. Today, Ko carded four birdies – one which stemmed from a near-ace on the second hole – and one bogey in an extremely solid round. As Shadoff went backwards, and low scores were harder to come by, Ko sank birdies on 16 and 17 to push away from the pack, and now heads into the final day with the lead for the first time since her last victory – at the Mediheal Championship in 2018.
That victory broke a 21-month drought between titles for Ko, and she is now in the midst of a 27-month winless run – perhaps a sign that one victory is not an elixir guaranteeing sustained future success.
It is also a reminder of just how tough it is to win at the highest levels of world golf. Offer a top-level victory every two years to Danny Lee or Ryan Fox - not to mention literally any other Kiwi golfer – and surely they'd rush to accept.
But, those are the expectations that come with being a teenage phenomenon and world No 1, and Ko's most recent title drought had been more concerning that her previous stretch. While by no means playing badly – 2019 saw Ko claim nine top-20 finishes – she didn't crack the top five, and during the Covid-enforced LPGA shutdown brought in a new swing coach in Sean Foley.
It's too soon to say how much of Ko's resurgence this week is down to technical changes and advice offered by Foley, but for this week, it's working – and if the new combination continues to click for another 18 holes, Ko will be back where her prodigious talent belongs.