BOCA RATON, Fla. — Saturday’s 50-degree temperatures were the least of the concerns of the golfers competing in the third round of the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.
It was the gusty, shifty winds that accompanied the cold front that perplexed Lydia Ko and Danielle Kang, who began the day tied for the lead at 11 under par.
Whether they were on the tee boxes, the fairways or the greens, the wind, which blew as hard as 33 mph, had them backing away from shots, re-thinking their club selections and wondering how hard or how easy to hit their putts.
Given those challenges, Ko was happy to grind out an even-par 72, while Kang was happy to still be in the hunt for her second consecutive victory after a 2-over 74.
“I’m proud that I just stayed in it and have a chance tomorrow,” said Kang, who had two birdies and a bogey on the front nine, but had three bogeys on the back.
Danielle Kang reacts on the 16th green during the third round of the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio Golf Club on January 29, 2022, in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Ko, who grew up in New Zealand and now lives in the Orlando area, opened with a 63 Thursday followed by a 70 Friday and is at 11-under 205.
Kang, of Las Vegas, who won last week’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando, shot 65-68 the first two days and is at 9-under 207.
She and Ko will be in the final threesome Sunday, teeing off at 11:40 a.m. They’ll be joined by Celine Boutier of France, who had Saturday’s best round, a bogey-free 3-under 69, to get to 8 under.
Charley Hull of England and Yuka Saso of Japan were tied for fourth at 7-under 209. Hull might’ve had the most interesting round Saturday. She birdied her first two holes, then bogeyed four of the next six. She came back with three birdies over her final 10 holes to finish with a 71.
Nasa Hataoka of Japan, who finished second here in 2020, was alone in sixth at 5-under 211 on rounds of 67-71-73.
Kang had good looks at birdie on the first and second holes and took the lead at 12 under with a short birdie putt on the par-4 fourth. She bogeyed the fifth after an errant drive, but came right back with another short birdie putt on the par-3 sixth.
Swirling winds had her back off her wedge shot to the par-5 10th several times, and she ended up hitting it into a bunker, then failed to get up and down for par.
“I didn’t know how to hit the shot,” she explained. “If it does one thing, it’s in the back bunker; if I do another, it’s in the front bunker; if I hit the shot that I want, it’s going to be right.”
Lydia Ko of New Zealand hits from the 16th tee during the third round of the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio Golf Club on January 29, 2022, in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Meanwhile, Ko, who sent a long, delicate, downhill birdie putt off the green on No. 7 for a three-putt bogey, birdied the 10th from short range to tie Kang. Ko parred in from there, making several good up and downs, including on the 18th hole from a back bunker.
“I think overall my game wasn’t as sharp as the other days, but when the conditions are tough, I think it’s difficult,” she said. “I don’t think I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities, but I still was able to hit a fair amount of greens.
“To finish even par after a tough, grindy day, I think it was a solid day at the office.”
The wind was a factor on the greens for both players. Ko said it was sometimes difficult to be stable standing over the ball. Kang three-putted the 14th for a bogey, sending her first putt zooming past the hole, and failed to get up and down on the 15th.
“I wasn’t that bothered (by the wind) with ball striking, but it bothered me a lot on the greens,” she said. “That three-putt … I decelerated on probably 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, so I told myself to accelerate and I did, and then I hit it by 12 feet. It was just a lot of calibrating on the greens today, which was not a good way to play, especially in this gusty wind.”
Boutier was concerned about the conditions, but then she birdied the par-5 first hole and added birdies at the par-4 12th and par-5 16th.
“I was a little bit apprehensive with the day just because it was just so windy, and then being able to have a good start definitely helped me get more confidence,” Boutier said. “It was just a really solid day from start to finish.”
Among local players, Lexi Thompson of Delray Beach shot 73 and was tied for 10th at 3 under 213. Jessica Korda of Jupiter was at 1 under after a 75.
World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Boynton Beach also shot 75 and was 2 over. She’ll be among the first players to tee off Sunday morning, starting on the 10th tee at 9:28 a.m. Jaye Marie Green of Jupiter shot 78 and was at 7 over.