DALY CITY, Calif. – Haru Nomura didn’t back down.
Atop a leaderboard filled with a strong cast of challengers going into Saturday at the Swinging Skirts Classic, Nomura was asked how she felt about having to hold off some of the hottest players in the game.
“I’m hot, too,” Nomura said.
With a 1-under-par 71 in difficult conditions in the third round, Nomura refused to give up any ground, protecting her three-shot lead with solid play in windy, tough conditions at Lake Merced Golf Club.
At 10-under 206, Nomura holds that lead on Na Yeon Choi (71) and Lee-Anne Pace (69).
Brooke Henderson (69), Catriona Matthew (71) and Gerina Piller (72) are each five shots back.
Nomura was paired Saturday with Minjee Lee, who won last week’s Lotte Championship closing hard with a 64. Lee was three behind Nomura at Saturday’s start but walked off the course six behind.
Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko, seeking to win this event for the third consecutive year, was four back at day’s start but also left six behind.
Nomura, 23, showed she knows how to hold off a strong challenge back in February when she broke through to win the Women’s Australian Open for her first LPGA title. She took a one-shot lead on Ko into the final round there and watched Ko mount a charge at her with a 67. Nomura answered with a 65 for a three-shot victory.
Nomura is riding a lot of confidence from that triumph over Ko.
“You could say it's confidence, but what I feel right now is I feel very comfortable about golf,” Nomura said through a translator. “I just want to have fun. I'm not thinking about trying to beat someone. It's really about having fun.”
Nine months ago, Nomura was 106th in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She is 36th now. She was the 16th-highest ranked Japanese woman in the world last summer. She’s the highest ranked now. That’s significant, because the top two Japanese players in the world rankings are assured spots in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer when qualifying is finalized on July 11.
While Nomura plays under the Japanese flag, she has strong Korean roots. She was born in Japan to a Japanese father and Korean mother but moved to Korea with her mother when she was 5 and grew up there.