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Lydia Ko needs to hold her nerve in final round

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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Golf

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Lydia Ko's maturity, talent and nerves will all be tested today as she tries to fend off a large group of far more experienced professional golfers.

The 16-year-old Kiwi was due to start the final round of the LPGA Tour's JTBC Founders Cup this morning (9.30am NZ time) with a one shot lead.

She carded a five-under 67 to get to 16-under for the tournament on an eventful moving day at the Wildfire Golf Club.

She had plenty of company shooting low, too, and is a solitary shot ahead of second round leader Mirim Lee (70) and world No 27 Jessica Korda (66), who will play today's final round alongside Ko.

The talented teen might have the lead in the NZ$1.76 million event, but she's only too well aware the title and the champion's share - NZ$246,000 - is going to be tough to win. There are 11 players within four shots of Ko and seven more a further shot back.

That chasing pack includes American Cristie Kerr (11-under), who shot a nine-under 63 yesterday, and both Azahara Munoz (13-under) and Paula Creamer (12-under) who carded eight-under 64s on moving day.

"I'm not sure [what score I'll need]," she said.

"There are obviously going to be some really low scores ... and that's why you just have to concentrate the whole way round."

Ko had a much improved front nine which included her second eagle of the week, though she narrowly missed holing her second on the 466m par-five fifth.

"I hit a five wood and I thought it was going a little left of where I wanted it to go, but it obviously ended up really well and I nearly made an albatross which would have been my first."

She'd earlier made a birdie on the front nine's other par five and started the back nine one shot behind playing partner Lee and Sun Young Yoo.

Ko picked up three more birdies on the back nine, alongside her round's only blemish, a bogey five at the 12th.

Ko's no stranger to final round pressure, having won the LPGA Tour's Canadian Open twice as an amateur and having already tasted victory as a professional, at the Swinging Skirts tournament in Taiwan last year.

But how she handles the fact she's probably going to have to shoot a fourth low round to go with her 67, 66, 67 start, will be key.

"Obviously there's going to be some nerves," she said.

"Of course, it's always there any time, but it's great that I've got a one-shot lead. I've just got to take the positive out of it and I'm just going to play my own game. If somebody goes crazy low, like, shooting 10-under or nine-under, or whatever, it's not something I can control."

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Even Ko's experienced opponents predict the schoolgirl will keep her cool.

"Well, can you really call them rookies?" said Korda referring to Ko and Lee.

"I have a 15-year-old sister at home and Lydia is 16, I'm like, you guys are way more mature than you should be."

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour's Kiwi contingent made big moves on the Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard yesterday, but they moved the wrong way.

Danny Lee started the third round in a tie for 39th, but shot a one-over 73 to drop to 52nd, even par for the tournament and sit 15 shots off the lead held by Adam Scott.

Tim Wilkinson fared worse and his five-over 77 dropped him to six-over overall and into 77th, the last position for golfers who made the cut.

Steve Alker shot a two-over 72 to drop back to even par at the Web.com Tour's Panama Claro Championship. The 42-year-old was to go into today's final round seven shots behind the leader, Australian Aron Price.

- The Press

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