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Lydia Ko lets commanding lead slip at LPGA Tour’s season-ending event in Florida

Lydia Ko squandered a five-shot lead in the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Florida.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Lydia Ko squandered a five-shot lead in the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Florida.

Lydia Ko’s bid to claim the largest winner’s prize in the history of women’s golf suffered a setback on Saturday (Sunday NZT).

The world No 3 carded a solid two-under round of 70 at the LPGA Tour’s season ending US$2 million (NZ$3.25 million) CME Group Tour Championship in Florida, to sit on 15-under for the championship with one round to go.

But the Kiwi now shares the lead with Ireland’s Leona Maguire, who got around the Tiburon Golf Club course in a remarkable 63 strokes after firing nine birdies in a blemish-free round.

Ko had started the day with a five-shot lead after shooting a six-under 66 in Naples to back her up opening round 65.

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However, she got off to a sticky start with a bogey on the second pin before getting back on track with a birdie on the par-four fourth. Ko produced another bogey on the next hole, before eventually getting round the front nine even par.

After relinquishing the clubhouse lead to Maguire, Ko looked set to head into the final day a shot behind the Irishwoman after a run of six pars on the back nine. But a birdie on 17 ensured she will start on level terms with the 27-year-old from Cavan.

Lydia Ko of New Zealand lines up a putt on the 18th green during the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Lydia Ko of New Zealand lines up a putt on the 18th green during the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday.

“A few putts here and there that could have, should have, would have,” Ko said after relinquishing her hefty lead headed into the penultimate day.

“But, you know, it was one of those days where probably it wasn’t, like, that much different [from the second round]. I still felt like I hit the ball really solid, and when it’s windy, I feel like your margin of error is so much smaller.”

Ko pointed out low scores were being carded each day, meaning she knew her overnight lead could evaporate even if she turned in a solid third round.

“So, you know, it was a day that could have been worse. It could have been better, but still I thought I stayed really patient out there, and to finish 2-under for the day I think was solid.”

Ireland's Leona Maguire fired a scorching 9-under 63 to grab a share of the lead heading into the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Ireland’s Leona Maguire fired a scorching 9-under 63 to grab a share of the lead heading into the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.

South Korean Hyo Joo Kim and Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh are five strokes off the pace in a share for third, with Canada’s Brooke Henderson and Swede Anna Nordqvist on nine-under and a quartet of players on eight-under.

Ko currently holds a one-point lead in the race for LPGA Tour player of the year and appears to be a lock to win the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. Both are worth a point in her bid to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Ko, 25, has two wins this season in what has been one of her most consistent campaigns on the LPGA Tour.

If she wins the tournament, she would push her earnings for 2022 to around US$4.3 million (NZ$7.1 million) and virtually lock up the money title as well.

Rain and strong winds are forecast for the final round. Or, as Maguire called it, Irish weather.

“I mean, we’ll have to wait to see how bad it gets. Maybe a little rain, a little wind. Nothing I’m not used to from Ireland. Nice to get a really low round under my belt today and just try to go out and do the same tomorrow.

“My caddy has been talking a lot about patience this week and just committing to my targets. Did that really well today and got a few rolling early on, got some momentum and, yeah, nice to see a few drop.”

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