TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Lydia Ko took a four-stroke lead Saturday in the LPGA Taiwan Championship, putting the 18-year-old New Zealander in position to regain the top spot in the world ranking.
Ko had four birdies in a five-hole stretch and closed with another birdie for a 5-under 67 in windy conditions at rain-soaked Miramar.
She would jump from second to first in the world with a victory or second-place finish Sunday and also could take the top spot under other scenarios depending on where top-ranked Inbee Park finishes in the Korea LPGA's KB Financial Star Championship. Park, the winner last year at Miramar, was tied for fourth Saturday in the South Korean event.
"It's hard to say, 'Hey, I've got the trophy today,'" Ko said. "I've still got to play a lot of good golf tomorrow. There's still 18 holes to go. ... On this course, anything can happen. There's some large numbers out there. I made a double myself."
Ko had a 13-under 203 total. South Korea's Eun-Hee Ji, a stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, was second after a 72. England's Charley Hull was another shot back after a 71.
Ko won the Evian Championship in France last month to become the youngest major champion and is tied with Park for the tour victory lead with four. Ko and Park also entered the week tied for the lead in the player of the year points race.
The teen star tied for the lead with a 20-foot birdie chip on the par-4 11th and pulled two strokes ahead with 9-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th. She made a 14-footer from the fringe on the par-3 14th and a 12-footer on the par-4 15th to push her advantage to four shots.
"After that chip-in, I kind of loosened up and tried to smile a little bit more," Ko said. "The putts started dropping."
She matched Ji with a birdie on the par-5 18th, holing an 8-foot putt after reaching the fringe in two and hitting a flop over a hump and past the hole.
Ko played the front nine in even par — making three birdies, a double bogey and a bogey — to fall two strokes behind Hull and one behind Ji.
"I was playing good at the first couple of holes, made a double and then made a bogey," Ko said. "I think I kind of got a little frustrated about that."
Hull dropped back with a triple bogey on the par-4 10th after her 3-wood drive sailed to the right and bounced out of bounds.
"I just hit one right and I wasn't quite happy with my club," Hull said. "I should have really hit driver, but I hit a good shot down there with my second ball, so I forgot about that."
Ji bogeyed 12 and missed a 4-foot birdie putt on 13.
Ko is trying to win for the 10th time on the LPGA Tour. She has four other worldwide victories, including the 2013 Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters at Miramar.
South Korea's So Yeon Ryu was fourth at 7 under after a 70. Scotland's Catriona Matthew (68) was 6 under, and Norway's Suzann Pettersen (71), Sweden's Anna Nordqvist (71) and China's Xi Yu Lin (74) were 5 under. Pettersen won the tournament in 2012 and 2013 at Sunrise.
Taiwanese star Yani Tseng was tied for 49th at 5 over after a 76. She won the inaugural event in 2011 at Sunrise.
The tournament is the third in the five-event Asian Swing. The Blue Bay LPGA is next week in China, followed by the Japan Classic.