Golf

Ko leads KPMG Women’s PGA, but nobody able to break away at Sahalee

Lydia Ko watches a tee shot Saturday at Sahalee. After a 1-under 70, Ko holds a one-stroke lead heading into the final round at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Lydia Ko watches a tee shot Saturday at Sahalee. After a 1-under 70, Ko holds a one-stroke lead heading into the final round at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The Associated Press

Colorful and serene, Sahalee Country Club is a dreamboat golf course on the outside.

And it’s a sinking-ship test of a major championship inside the ropes — particularly this week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

If you wanted to see lots of birdies and low scores, try tuning in on a different week. If you like a tightly packed field — 15 golfers are within four shots of leader Lydia Ko — ready to produce great theater and drama, tune in Sunday for the final round.

This has a chance to be a doozy.

Nobody, including Ko, has been able to break away on the Sahalee layout, which has provided such a stern test that, frankly, it is winning the matchup battle, not the golfers.

After a 1-under-par 70 on Saturday, the New Zealand star’s three-round total is 2-under 211. That is good for a one-stroke advantage over a pair of Americans, Brittany Lincicome (71) and Gerina Piller (71) at 212.

The only three golfers under par will go off in the final group at 12:15 p.m. Sunday.

By no means are any of the three of them locks to go on and win. South Korea’s Amy Yang fired the tournament’s best round Saturday — a 66 — to move into a six-way tie for fourth at even-par 213.

Also in that pack is Canadian Brooke Henderson, the second-round leader who took some third-round lumps en route to a 73.

And then there is Thai standout Ariya Jutanungarn, who has won her past three LPGA Tour starts. She isn’t hitting a driver on this beastly layout, yet produced a 68 in the third round to move within two strokes of Ko.

“We’ve still got a long 18 holes to go,” Ko said.

Ko and Lincicome are the only two golfers to shoot par or better in each of the first three rounds.

And the two-time major champions are a stark contrast in styles: Lincicome relies on her power game, particularly off the tee.

“The par 5s are the holes I can take advantage of and try and make birdie,” Lincicome said.

Meanwhile, Ko — who hits it about as far off the tee as 55-year-old Juli Inkster — is the premier precision golfer in the world.

That was on display late Saturday.

In trouble behind a tree at the 16th hole, she hit a fantastic flop shot from near the green to get up and down for par.

On the next hole, her tee shot at the long par 3 came to rest up against the apron right and short of the back pin.

She could have putted it, but that would have required her to roll it through the fringe. So she decided to hit a chip from on the putting surface — and nestled it 3 feet from the hole.

“I was saying, ‘Man, the spectators must think I am nuts having a wedge in my hands,’ ” Ko said. “You’ve just got to trust it.”

Ko couldn’t find the magic on the uphill finishing hole, hitting a tree with her approach shot at the par 4. She could not get up and down to save par.

Lincicome hit the green, but three-putted from 35 feet for bogey.

It’s that type of golf course — even when you hit the correct shots, you can still walk off with a crooked score.

Ko remains in the best position to claim her third consecutive major. If she wins, the world’s No. 1 player would become the youngest champion (19 years, one month) in the tournament’s 62-year history, eclipsing Yani Tseng (19 years, four months) from 2008.

But Sahalee is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the most difficult tests in women’s major championship history. The last winner of this tournament to fail to break par was England’s Laura Davies (even par) in 1996 at DuPont Country Club.

“The course itself makes us work hard out there,” Ko said.

KPMG Women’s

PGA Championship

At Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish

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Complete scores, 5B

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