Park In-bee birdies 18 to seize LPGA Kia Classic lead

South Korean Park In-bee rolls in a birdie putt at 18 to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the LPGA Kia Classic. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: South Korean Park In-bee drained a long birdie putt at the 18th hole on Saturday to grab a one-shot lead over Japan’s Nasa Hataoka in the LPGA Kia Classic.

Park, a seven-time major champion seeking to end a year-long title drought, carded her second straight five-under par 67 at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

Her 14-under par total of 202 put her one in front of Hataoka, who had eight birdies without a bogey in her 64 for 203.

Park, seeking a 20th LPGA title in this last event before the first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, said the key to her round was “a combination of consistency and the putting.”

“I holed some good putts, especially on the back nine,” she said. “Just the feel on the greens is really good this week and I really want to keep that going tomorrow.”

Hataoka, 20, is trying to add to the two titles she won last season.

“I started out playing really well, attacking the pins, and had a lot of par saves as well, good par saves,” she said, adding that she wanted to take advantage of good scoring conditions.

South Korea’s Hur Mi-jung made the most of them, firing a tournament record 62 that included seven of her 10 birdies on the back nine.

“I got goosebumps,” she said.

“So excited playing the back nine. (I) had great shots and great putts and made seven birdies in a row.”

Her sparkling effort left her tied with world number one Park Sung-Hyun (71) on 205 – a stroke behind Thailand’s Thidapa Suwannapura.

Thidapa, tied for the overnight lead with Park Sung-hyun, carded a 70 while the South Korean posted a 71 – bouncing back from a double-bogey and two bogeys in her first six holes with six birdies before a bogey at the last.