New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko topped the crowded leaderboard in the JTBC Founders Cup, pulling ahead with two late birdies Saturday. The 16-year-old shot a 5-under 67 to reach 16-under 200 at Desert Ridge. She tapped in for birdie on the par-5 15th after missing an 8-foot eagle putt and took the outright lead with a 10-footer on the par-3 17th. Jessica Korda and Mirim Lee were a stroke back, and a dozen players were within four shots on a course that gave up a 63 and two 64s in the third round. “Obviously, there’s going to be some nerves,” Ko said. “Of course, that’s always there.” Ko was 3 under on Wildfire’s Arnold Palmer-designed front nine Saturday after playing it in even par the first two days. She eagled the par-5 fifth after hitting a 5-wood to 7 feet. She’s 13 under on the Nick Faldo-designed back nine, where the tournament will be decided. “I played much better on the front nine, so I was really happy with that,” Ko said. Ko tapped in for birdie on the par-5 15th after missing an eagle try and took the outright lead with a 10-footer on the par-3 17th. “You never know until the last hole, last putt,” Ko said.
Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open as an amateur the last two years and took the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in December in Thailand in her second start as a professional. She has five victories in pro events, also winning in Australia and New Zealand.
“It would be pretty special and especially at the Founders Cup,” Ko said. “Without the founders, there would be no LPGA. This has been my dream tour.”
Ko will play alongside Korda. They also played together in the first two rounds.
“It’s always cool to play with her,” Ko said.
Korda, the winner in the season-opening event in the Bahamas, birdied the final two holes for her second bogey-free 66 in a row.
“I look at her like a little sister,” Korda said about Ko. “She’s a great girl.”
Lee, the leader after each of the first two rounds, bogeyed the 15th and shot 70. She’s making her third start on the LPGA Tour after winning three times on the Korean LPGA.
Sun Young Yoo, the 2012 Kraft Nabisco winner, was 14 under after a 68.
Michelle Wie had a 67 to join Azahara Munoz, So Yeon Ryu, Amy Yang and Chella Choi at 13 under.
“I couldn’t get anything to the hole, but scrambled and shot 5 under,” Wie said. “I’m really happy to be in the position that I am. I’m really excited for tomorrow.”
Munoz, coming off a playoff loss to Paula Creamer three weeks ago in Singapore, shot 64 – one of 19 rounds of 67 or better in the 74-player field Saturday. Yang had a 67, and Ryu and Choi shot 68. Choi holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 18th.
Creamer had a 64 to match defending champion Stacy Lewis and Morgan Pressel at 12 under.
Creamer played the first 15 holes in 9 under, then bogeyed the short par-4 16 after driving into a bunker.
“I have hit the ball great this week,” Creamer said. “I’ve given myself so many opportunities, it’s kind of ridiculous. I just didn’t putt my best the last two days.”
In Singapore, she holed a 75-foot eagle putt to beat Munoz on the second extra hole.
Lewis and Pressel, 9 under after 11 holes Thursday, shot 67.
“Pretty disappointing,” Lewis said. “I left a ton of shots out there today. The greens were a bit softer and I just didn’t quite adjust to it. Speed was a little bit different.”
Cristie Kerr matched the course record with a 63 to reach 11 under, finishing an hour before the leaders teed off.
“I saw Cristie shot 9 under and Paula was 8 and I was like, ‘Wow! That’s serious scoring,” Korda said. “But the greens are a little bit bouncier in the afternoon and you can kind of see where people have walked.”
Kerr, playing a new set of irons this week, had an eagle, eight birdies and a three-putt bogey.
“I’m glad that I had the courage to switch because I’m just so much more consistent now,” Kerr said.