The Lydia Ko phenomenon continues to sweep Royal Canberra as the Kiwi golfing sensation enters today's final round of the Australian Open as joint leader despite finally showing signs of fallibility.
For the first time in the LPGA season-opening event the precocious 15-year-old showed she might be human after all by encountering insurmountable challenges twice in quick succession during a contrasting third round that climaxed with a stress-relieving birdie.
Ko looked to the heavens after making a four on the last - a save that enabled her to sit top the leader board with experienced South Korean Jiyai Shin.
Her fifth birdie - and 21st so far - enabled Ko to card a 3-under 70.
Shin, trailing in the final group, did likewise so the pair are locked at 17-under heading into a tantalising home stretch of the $US1.2 million tournament.
A wayward approach on the 12th and then wonky chips on the fringe of the 14th green saw her trademark smile turn to a frown for the first time - although the world's leading amateur is still capable of following up last Sunday's New Zealand Open victory at Clearwater with the fourth professional win of her remarkable career.
Ko wobbled partway through the back nine as two bogeys in three holes counteracted her smooth beginning but again displayed her maturity by holding her nerve.
That quality will be required again when she tees off with Shin, a 10-time winner on the LPGA tour and former world No 1.
"I've got to stay calm and see what happens," said Ko, who described the tournament as just another learning experience.
The former world No 1 and Ko were tied in second place when they teed off in perfect conditions and ultimately could not be separated on "moving" day.
But overnight leader, Colombian Mariajo Uribe, gradually dropped off the pace with a calamitous 79.
Spaniard Beatriz Recari is the closest challenger to the frontrunners, though six shots adrift.
Ko, playing just her 13th professional event, concedes experience to the 24-year-old world No 8, but has held her at bay before when becoming the youngest ever winner of an LPGA event in Canada last year.
She said that background gave her some security as she attempted to add the Australian Open to her New South Wales, Canadian and New Zealand triumphs.
"I guess I've played alongside her before so it does make it a little more comfortable," she said.
Shin, meanwhile, was keen not to lose another final round showdown with a star of the future and doubted her experience would be a factor.
"I think she has enough experience too," she said.
"She played great last week and last year too (in Canada).
"I know she's hitting it great and her putting is really good."
Ko, who initially led the tournament thanks to a career-best 10-under 63 on Thursday - returned to the top of the leader board with a birdie on the second and maintained her advantage until Shin was surprised to hole a sand wedge from a greenside bunker to eagle the sixth.
"I was too short to watch it go in. It's a little sad I couldn't see it," she laughed.
The New Zealander also picked up shots on the fourth, sixth and 10th to temporarily regain the outright lead at 18-under before the rough chipped away at her confidence.
Despite enduring another tough physical examination Ko was back to her chirpy self when asked if the two contenders' styles were mirror images.
"She's a pretty accurate player off the tee so it that way we're pretty similar I guess," she said, smiling: "They say we look alike too."
- © Fairfax NZ News