RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Sei Young Kim used to dream about winning at Mission Hills when she watched the LPGA Tour’s first major championship of the season on television in South Korea.
“When Grace Park and Stacy Lewis won it, I remember them jumping into the pond,” Kim recalled Saturday after opening a three-stroke lead in the ANA Inspiration.
Kim will play alongside Lewis on Sunday.
“I’m getting a kick out of it because this is a tournament that I’ve watched since I was young,” Kim said through a translator. “To be here playing against the players that I’ve watched, I mean, I can’t believe it. … If I were to win it tomorrow, it would be the biggest dream ever to come true for me,”
Lewis was second after a 68.
“I’d probably even chicken out in starting a conversation,” Kim said. “But you know, just to be able to play with her on the final day, it’s an honor.”
The winner will take the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond.
“For sure, it wouldn’t be bad jumping into that pond,” Kim said.
The long-hitting Kim shot a 3-under 69 to reach 10 under. She holed a downhill 18-footer from the fringe for a birdie on the par-4 16th, made a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and two-putted for par from the back fringe on the par-5 18th.
Lewis bogeyed Nos. 15 and 17. The 30-year-old Texan won the 2011 event for the first of her 11 LPGA Tour titles.
“It’s just trying to just hang in there,” Lewis said. “That’s what we’re all trying to do. We’re all just trying to hang in there.”
The 22-year-old Kim won her first LPGA Tour title in February in the Bahamas. A five-time winner on the South Korean tour, she’s making her 13th LPGA Tour start.
“I feel a little bit pressured right now,” Kim said. “Back in Korea, when I was playing on the Korean tour, I was known for coming from behind and winning tournaments. But to be in the lead going into the final round on the LPGA is fairly new for me.”
Top-ranked Lydia Ko shot a 74, her second straight over-par round after tying the LPGA Tour record for consecutive rounds under par at 29 on Thursday. She was tied for 48th at 2 over.
“I didn’t feel like it was too bad today,” Ko said. “I just couldn’t get the putts to drop.”
The 17-year-old New Zealander made an 8-foot putt on 18 for her lone birdie of the round. She has at least one birdie in all 187 of her rounds in 49 career events on the tour.
Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome and Ariya Jutanugarn were tied for third at 6 under. Lincicome shot a 70 after driving into the water on 18 and making a bogey. Pressel had a 71, and Jutanugarn shot 66.
Lewis birdied six of the first 12 holes to take the lead at 9 under.
“I kind of hit it all over the place, but I scored really well,” Lewis said. “
She ran into trouble on the par-4 15th when her drive went to the left, with a palm tree possibly saving it from going out of bounds over the property fence that runs along Gerald Ford Drive. The ball dropped into a bunker and she left her approach in the tangled rough in front of the right greenside bunker. She flopped out and missed a 25-foot par putt.
Lewis settled for a par on the 16th. After her 167-yard approach ticked the cup on the way past, she pulled her 5-foot birdie try left.
Lewis three-putted the par-3 17th for her second bogey, running her 20-foot downhill birdie try 8 feet past. She had a chance to get the stroke back on 18, but missed a 6-foot birdie putt.
“Coming in there, I didn’t make some of the best swings ever,” Lewis said. “Definitely didn’t deserve bogey on 15, so I was pretty happy making bogey there, truthfully. Seventeen, just kind of misjudged the wind and hit a wrong club there, and then the green is really bumpy down there by the hole. But all in all, it was a good, solid day.”
Pressel won in 2007 to become the youngest major champion at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days.
Tied with playing partner Kim at 8 under with three holes left, Pressel missed short par putts on 16 and 17. She lipped out a 4-footer on 16 and missed from 3 feet on 17.
Lincicome, the 2009 winner, chipped in for birdies on Nos. 9 and 16 and made a 20-foot birdie putt on 17 before her closing bogey.
Defending champion Lexi Thompson was tied for ninth at 4 under after a 71. She was 7 under with five holes left, then made three straight bogeys and closed with two pars.
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