-14 N Hataoka (Jpn), -14 N Korda (USA), -14 JY Ko (Kor), -14 C Boutier (Fra), -12 L Maguire (Ire), -12 L Thompson (USA), -10 G Hall (Eng).
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By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 20/11/21 11:30pm
Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko, the top two players in the world, will go into the final round of the LPGA Tour season tied for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship.
Ko threatened to rip up the record books when she reeled off seven consecutive birdies on the front nine until a bogey at the ninth took the wind out of her sails, and the world No 2 parred every hole on the back nine to post a 66 and join Nasa Hataoka on 14 under.
Hataoka had earlier fired a superb 64 despite not making a birdie until the ninth, storming home in just 29 strokes to claim the clubhouse lead which was later tied by Ko, Korda and overnight leader Celine Boutier.
Korda admitted she was “scared” by an incident at the 12th when she feared being penalised for causing her ball to move, while she also had concerns over her putting form despite carding five birdies and a brilliant eagle at the 17th, while Boutier endured a tough day having led by four overnight, the Solheim Cup star making only two birdies in her 72.
While Korda has the edge in the world rankings, Ko holds a slender lead over the American in the Race to CME Globe standings with just 18 holes of the season remaining at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples.
But Korda was relieved that her score was verified after a brush with the rules following a wild tee shot to the par-three that settled in the pine straw on the left, although her ball appeared to move as she was visualising the shot ahead.
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“It was a good round, kind of up and down,” said Korda. “I made a birdie and then I instantly bogeyed or got myself into trouble, and then kind of that situation on the par-three too kind of scared me a little.
“I don’t know what it is, I have a mental block with that pin. I’m like, ‘okay, just place me in the pine straw on the left!’ Then I was looking at where I wanted to land my chip shot and I looked down and I saw that I kind of moved the ball a little, and then it went back into its place.
“I didn’t want to take any chances, so I called a rules official right away. If I was going to get addressed a penalty then I was going to get addressed a penalty. A one-stroke penalty is a big difference out here. That moves you a good bit down the leaderboard, so I was definitely a little stressed.
“When they looked at the video footage they said it went back to the original place, which that’s what I saw it did, but I’m not the one that makes the call. They are.”
Ko’s round was very much a tale of two nines, barely missing a beat on the front half before spurning a number of opportunities to claim the outright lead at the 54-hole stage.
“It was really fun to have seven birdies in a row,” said the world No 2. “I was feeling I could make every putt on front nine. I had great round, a lot of good shots and good putts on front nine, but I had a lot of missed shots for the back nine.
“But it’s pretty good, and I shot better than yesterday, so it was fine.”
Ko also revealed she would have an MRI scan on a wrist injury that has been troubling her for the past few weeks, describing her discomfort levels as “five out of 10” pain.
“I had pills this morning and I got medicine from the doctor at the trailer,” she added. “I’ve had it taped every day, even in the pro-am and practice round as well. But when I go back to Korea, I will check the MRI and everything.”
Gaby Lopez had a rocky ride over the last three holes when tied for the lead as she pushed her tee shot into a hazard at the short 16th and double-bogeyed before getting both shots back with a 30-foot double-breaking putt for eagle at 17.
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But the Mexican then came up short and left with her approach to the final green and found water, the resulting bogey dropping her to 13 under alongside Mina Harigae, with Solheim Cup sensation Leona Maguire just two off the lead after a bogey-free 66.
The Irish star was joined on 12 under by Nanna Koerstz Madsen (67) and Lexi Thompson (68), but Georgia Hall slipped four shots off the pace following a frustrating 71.