A DESPERATE final hole birdie has kept alive Minjee Lee’s hopes of a third career LPGA Tour title at the Blue Bay tournament in China.
After taking a six stroke lead into the third round at the Jian Lake course on Hainan Island, Lee has slipped into a share of top spot with American Jessica Korda.
A 1-over 73 which included just two birdies against three bogies saw Lee relinquish a commanding position atop the leaderboard as the field took advantage of easier scoring conditions.
Korda signed for a 6-under 66 to climb to 11-under while World Number Two, Ariya Jutanugarn, went one better in vaulting to outright third with one round to play.
PLAYER PROFILE MINJEE LEE:
Lee struggled from the outset with a bogey at the second and couldn’t regain the shot iuntil the ninth.
Meanwhile Korda, who began with six consecutive pars, got hot around the turn with three straight birdies to close out the nine.
She then added pressure with two more at the 11th and 12th while Lee, playing in the group behind, compounded her struggles by dropping shots at the same two holes.
Both players then made a string of pars before birdies at the 18th saw them finish the day sharing top spot.
While Korda and Lee battled each other in the final two groups it was the World Number Two who made the biggest move of the day, Jutanugarn posting eight birdies against a lone dropped shot to get to 9-under and within two of the leaders.
“I'm very happy about my round today because I started to make some putts, because the last few days, I missed a lot of putts,” Jutanugarn said after her round.
“This course, you have to be really patient. I think today I maintained my like emotion to be patient, so I just hit like hit my tee shot good.
“I just be like waiting for birdies, not really rushing trying to make birdies. Just trying to have fun.”
She said she would employ the same strategy tomorrow rather than thinking about her position on the leaderboard.
“I just focus on have fun and enjoy tomorrow, because like I'm not really worried about like if I'm one shot behind,” she aid.
“I just want to have fun tomorrow. To me it's good enough that I'm here, to be in contention to have a chance to win.
“I just want to have fun. That's all I need to think.”
Jutanugarn enjoys a two shot cushion over fourth placed Caroline Masson with another shot back to Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum in outright fifth.
Just 18 players are in red figures through 54 holes, Lee’s fellow Australians Sarah Jane Smith and Su Oh not among them.
Both have found the going tough from the outset, Oh battling to a 6-over 78 in round three to drop to T55 while Smith signed for her best score of the week, a 1-under 71, to be T63.
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