Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko turned the third round of the Swinging Skirts Classic into a scintillating Saturday duel while pulling away from the field at Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco.
Lewis and Ko, the No. 3 and No. 4 ranked players in the world, respectively, took turns topping each other on the back nine with stellar shot making in their pairing together.
Lewis shot a 4-under-par 68, with the teen phenom Ko matching her, leaving Lewis atop the leaderboard, one shot ahead of Ko going into Sunday’s final round. It will mark the fourth consecutive day these two will play with each other.
“More than anything, it was just a lot of fun,” Lewis told media in her post-round interview. “We're both playing great golf. It's fun to watch her play. We'll do it another day tomorrow.”
The matchup gives the women’s game yet another intriguing Sunday duel in the month of April. Lexi Thompson defeated Michelle Wie in a head-to-head final-round duel at the Kraft Nabisco at month’s start, and then Wie came from four shots behind to win the Lotte Championship in Hawaii last week.
“I think we both realize there is definitely going to be some extra attention, when the two of us are kind of battling like that,” Lewis said. “The leaderboards we've had at the majors, and the last couple weeks, I mean, it's been unbelievable for our tour. So, we're trying to keep the momentum going, I guess.”
Lewis, 29, knows there is no surrender in the young Ko, 17. When Ko broke through to win the CN Canadian Women’s Open at 15 to become the youngest player in history to win an LPGA event, Lewis played alongside her in the final round. Lewis began that Sunday a shot behind Ko and couldn’t catch her. Now, it’s Ko’s turn to chase.
“I was impressed back then,” Lewis said. “I think the best part of her game is, like I was talking about, the maturity. Playing away from pins and not going after every pin. She was fearless out there on a couple of them, though, but she definitely doesn't play like she's 17.”
At 10-under 206, Lewis is four shots ahead of Jenny Shin (68) and five ahead of Hee Young Park (68). Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park (73) is eight shots back. Wie (71) is nine back.
Ko, who turned 17 on Thursday, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people this week. She is seeking her third LPGA title, her sixth title playing professional events.
Lewis is seeking her first LPGA title of the year, though she is on a remarkable streak of getting herself into contention. She has recorded 17 top-10 finishes in her last 18 worldwide starts.
Ko made an early move Saturday with back-to-back birdies at the fifth and sixth holes to overtake Lewis for a one-shot lead. Lewis came on strong late, making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes.
Both players knew something special was brewing when they matched birdies at the 15th and 16th holes. Lewis hit her tee shot at the 15th to 3 feet, but it proved no advantage after Ko missed the green. Ko chipped in for birdie before Lewis made her putt.
At the 16th, Ko hit her approach to 4 feet, but before she finished off her birdie, Lewis rolled in a 50-footer for birdie.
“We kind of found our rhythm, and then it was birdie after birdie,” Lewis said.