April 29, 2018: A spectacular front nine helped Aditi Ashok rise up the order and force her way inside the top ten at the LPGA Mediheal Championship. The 20 year old fired four birdies in five holes, including three in a row to race past the bend in just 32 strokes.
Her only blemish came on the par-3 twelfth hole. But she undid the damage a couple of holes later, with a nice birdie at the 15th. Aditi will bring a four stroke advantage to the course on Sunday, moving to within four strokes off the overnight leader Jessica Korda, who is lying third at 8-under through 54 holes.
Lydia Ko will sleep on the 54-hole lead on the LPGA Tour for the first time in 658 days. Sunday, the two-time winner at Lake Merced Golf Club will awake with a chance to win the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship for her first win on Tour since 2016.
Ko matched the low round of the day Saturday with a 5-under par, 67 to lead by two at 11-under par, one ahead of Jessica Korda. Minjee Lee sits solo third at 8-under par. Mariajo Uribe, Ryann O’Toole, Moriya Jutanugarn and Charley Hull are T4 at 6-under par.
“I’m happy with the way I played,” said Ko. “I’ve just got to stay positive and confident out there and just continue playing my game and not worry about what everyone else is doing.”
Saturday, Lake Merced brought out the Ko of old. She wasn’t perfect, she missed four fairways and four greens, but luck was on her side. At the par 4, 11th hole, Ko pulled her drive well left into the rough and put her approach in the right, green side bunker. Up against the lip, Ko holed her bunker shot for birdie to jump into a tie at the top with Korda. She celebrated with a smile and fist pump. The good breaks kept coming, with back-to-back birdies at the par 5, 15th and par 4, 16th holes to take the outright lead into Sunday’s final round.
“I love San Francisco. I’m a member here, so sometimes I get some friendly member bounces, too,” Ko joked about the breaks she got on Saturday. “For it to have gone in, I know there was luck involved with that.”
In 2016, while at No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, Ko overhauled all aspects of her game. She split with her caddie, her instructor and changed equipment. Ko hoped the changes would improve the consistency in her ball striking and help her rediscover the excitement she felt as a rookie. When she didn’t see the results she wanted in 2017, going without a win on Tour for the first time since 2012, she overhauled her team once again. Now, four months into the 2018 season, with a single top 10 to start the year, Ko has a chance to quiet the critics and affirm the decisions she’s made over the last year and a half.
“I’ve just been with my family and friends this week, so it will be the same as any other day,” Ko said about Sunday. “I just got to play the best I can, stay focused, have a lot of fun. If it happens, that’s great, but I think the most important thing for me is to stay positive.”
Aditi will look to finish the week with a flourish as she looks to improve her record on the LPGA. A good round on Sunday will secure her second top ten result, perhaps bettering her T8 in the Marathon Classic last July.