I apologize to my readers that might be watching the 5:00 EST telecast of the Third Round of the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, for the spoiler. Windy and chilly were suitable adjectives for the third round. Weather in the 50’s and wind gusts of up to 33 mph or 53 km/h made for a tricky round for the field on the pristine Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton, Florida.
There hasn’t been much fluctuation atop the leaderboard, as the first round reader (Lydia Ko) sits on top as Danielle Kang is definitely within reach of catching the leader. France’s Celine Boutier had the low round of the day, firing a 69. An exciting finish awaits on Sunday.
On a day when scoring was at a premium, Lydia Ko tamed the windy, chilly conditions to shoot even par and open a two-stroke advantage at 11-under overall in the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. It is the 16th time in her LPGA Tour career that Ko has held or shared the 54-hole advantage. The most recent event: 2021 LOTTE Championship, which Ko went on to win.
“Going into today, I knew that it was going to be pretty difficult,” Ko said. “Playing in the wind, any sort of temperature, makes it a lot tougher, and I knew that today was going to be a little bit more of a grind. You have to be more focused and move on when you do make mistakes.
“Finishing with pars the last couple holes, I got away with it there. To finish even par after a tough day, I think it was a solid day in the office.”
Her record-setting victory at Kapolei Golf Club nine months ago was Ko’s first title since the 2018 LPGA Mediheal Championship. On Sunday in Boca Raton, she will look to collect a win in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2015 and 2016 LPGA campaigns.
“It’s great to be back in contention. I played really solid and consistent, especially in the back half of my season last year,” said Ko, who earned 11 top-10 finishes across 20 starts in 2021. “When you keep putting yourself there, you feel like at one point it’s going to fall. I’m playing alongside the best female golfers and some of the best athletes in the world, so it’s not easy.”
Last week’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions winner Danielle Kang signed for a 2-over 74 on Saturday. She trails her good friend and third-round playing partner by two shots.
“Today was rough. I checked out a little bit for the back nine,” said Kang. “I did everything I can to stay in contention and give myself a chance tomorrow. It was tough out there. I missed a lot of putts. There was a lot of gusting [wind over] shots and I never missed so many putts by so far [a margin] in a while.”
Celine Boutier rounds out Sunday’s final grouping. Her 69 was one of two bogey-free rounds Saturday—the other coming from Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist (71)—which launched Boutier into outright third at -8. A win by Boutier would give her three LPGA Tour victories and make her the winningest French golfer in LPGA Tour history, passing Patricia Meunier-Lebouc and Anne-Marie Pall.
***The last title for the Frenchwoman came at the 2021 ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer.
“I didn’t even realize I had gone bogey-free. I was honestly just focusing on one hole at a time, doing my best each hole,” Boutier said. “Moving up the leaderboard as much as I could was my goal for today.
“It’s different [feel] because ShopRite was only three rounds, and I came from pretty far behind. I knew I might have a chance coming into the last round, but I was trying to go as deep as I can. Conditions this week and especially this weekend are so hard that you can’t really go very deep. You have to play solid and make pars, make as few mistakes as you can, and hope that it’s enough.”
Charley Hull (71) and Yuka Saso (72) share fourth at 7-under. Delray Beach resident Lexi Thompson (73) jumped into a tie for 10th on -3, while Rolex Rankings No. 1 and defending Gainbridge LPGA champion Nelly Korda shot 4-over 76 to drop into a share of 23rd at even par. And Palm Beach County native Jaye Marie Green (78) sits in a tie for 69th at +7.
WITH A WIN…
Lydia Ko would collect a $300,000 winner’s check and move to ninth on the LPGA Tour All-Time Career Earnings List with $12,668,796, passing World Golf Hall of Fame and LPGA Hall of Fame member Se Ri Pak.
Ko would slide into a tie for 32nd on the LPGA Tour Career Wins List with 17 titles joining Dottie Pepper, Ayako Okamoto and Beverly Hanson.
Ko would secure her first LPGA Tour title in the month of January.
Ko would earn wins in consecutive seasons (2021 LOTTE Championship) for the first time since 2015 and 2016.
Danielle Kang would become the sixth player in LPGA Tour history to win the first two events of the season and first since Ai Miyazato in 2010.
Kang would jump into a tie for 73rd on the LPGA Tour Career Wins List with seven titles.
Kang would secure consecutive wins for the second time in her career. In 2020, she won the LPGA Drive On Championship—Inverness and Dana Open presented by Marathon in back-to-back weeks. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions on January 23 to open the 2022 season.
Kang would be the first player to win consecutive tournaments since Jin Young Ko won the Cognizant Founders Cup and BMW Ladies Championship in October 2021.