Three straight days, Korean Jin Young Ko has slept on the lead at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Kooyonga.
Three times, she has presented as calm and comfortable under the heat, her attire creaseless and her face never drifting into so much as a frown.
Now she is a potentially a day away from winning the $US1.3 million event and securing her status on the LPGA Tour.
Her main challenge could come from rising Australian pair Hannah Green (66 to sit second at seven under) and fellow West Australian Minjee Lee (69 for five under), who combined brilliantly today to put a local flavour back into the chase for the Patricia Bridges Bowl.
Other main contenders include Koreans Hye-jin Choi and Sun Young Yoo, both at six under par, with Japanese youngster Nasa Hataoka alongside Lee in a share of fifth.
But Ko’s buffer is four shots and she is no stranger to winning; she has 10 wins on the Korean LPGA Tour and another four at a lower level to show her closing ability. She said earlier this week she had ticked off an earlier wire-to-wire victory as well.
She has been unfaltering and magnificent, going home to watch the Winter Olympic speed skating on television to relax.
Today the 22-year-old from just outside Seoul came out blisteringly hot, taking birdie at three of the first five holes. At that moment, her lead had grown from three shots overnight to six. Then, the lull. A bogey at the sixth showed her humanity, then another at the eighth.
At the 11th she made a great par-save and at the 12th, she snap-hooked her drive into the trees, leaving her in a somewhat difficult spot, blocked out by trees. But she punched it out up near the green, chipped to close range and holed the putt.
By this time, the conditions were tougher than what the earlier players had encountered. All around her, the other contenders fell away, such as Jiyai Shin who started out second but lost two shots on the day, and American Emma Talley, who gave back four, playing in the final group.
She has an Australian in Dean Herden on her bag and she enjoys the crowds, who call her “JY”, for short, just as Herden does. A 4m birdie putt at the 17th put the hammer down again, and she might have made another at the last but missed the putt from short range. She signed for 71, a highly-respectable score.
There are probably only five women in the field who have any chance of beating her tomorrow.
Ko said her approach would be simple: “I think focus on my game and think about my chipping keys and putting keys, and enjoy.”
She is a sensational player, brilliant with her irons, and she has not exactly come out of the blue. Two years ago she led the Women’s British Open to the 16th hole on the final day when her approach found water. Those wins in Korea, almost certainly the toughest tour outside the LPGA, did not come easily.
But a certain conservatism may be in order with a four-shot lead. “This course is narrow and then (the) green, so I (am) thinking about only the greens and then two putts. Birdies will be okay, but yes, that’s it.”
Images- Andrew Frackowski