Lydia Ko moved into position Saturday to make one last bid to claim the ultimate prize for a teen prodigy in golf.
With a 4-under-par 67, Ko climbed into a tie for third at the Evian Championship in France, two shots behind the leader, Mi Hyang Lee.
Sunday will mark Ko’s last chance to become the youngest woman to win a major championship. She will be 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old. Notably, Ko is tied for third with Morgan Pressel at Evian. Pressel became the youngest winner of a women’s major in 2007 when she won the Kraft Nabisco (now ANA Inspiration) at 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old. By the time the final day of the next major - the ANA - rolls around next April, Ko will be 18 years, 11 months and 1 week old.
The drama promised to be heightened Sunday at Evian with the golf gods appearing to shine their favor on the storyline. By virtue of their performances Saturday, Ko and Pressel were set to be paired together in the final round, a dynamic matchup with history hanging in the balance. It won’t happen, though. With a lot of rain in the forecast Saturday night and into Sunday, championship officials decided to revamp tee times and send players off early, in threesomes instead of twosomes, off the first and 10th tees.
Ko is already the most accomplished teen prodigy in women’s golf. At 14, she became the youngest player at the time to win a professional event, taking the NSW Open in Australia on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour. At 15, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA event, taking the Canadian Women’s Open. At 16, she won the Canadian Women’s Open again. At 17, she became the youngest man or woman to rise to world No. 1 in professional golf.
Ko, who has already won 12 professional titles worldwide, will be eyeing the coup de grace trying to win Evian.
“Morgan's record is pretty amazing,” Ko said. “For her to do it at 18 years old, I don't know exactly how old, but it's really hard to do. Winning a major at any age is pretty hard. For her to do that at the ANA, I think is pretty amazing. So, yeah, obviously this is my last chance.
“I’m just going to take it as a good experience and just give myself a good chance tomorrow.”
On a wild Saturday, where five players shared the lead late in the round, Lee closed out a 70 in the rain to take sole possession of the lead, leaving her one shot ahead of Thompson. Lee buried a clutch 10-foot putt for par at the last to retain that lead.
Lee will have to hold off a formidable cast Sunday with Thompson, Ko and Pressel bunched behind her and nine players grouped within four of the lead. Lee, 22, is seeking he first major championship title. She broke through to win her first LPGA title in Japan at the Mizuno Classic late last year.
Thompson, 20, seeking her second major championship title, made a big move Saturday shooting 66. Pressel had a share of the lead going to the 18th tee, but she couldn’t muscle a 4-hybrid out of the rough at the last hole, knocking it short and into the water. She made double bogey to close.
“It's just the grass was so wet that it didn't get up in the air,” Pressel said. “Looking back, obviously, it was a mistake, but I thought I could hit the shot. It just didn't work out.
“I hit it great today, some of the best ball striking I've had in a long time. So that was encouraging. I can't tell you the number of 10-footers that I missed. So I've got to go tomorrow morning and practice my putting.”
Ko, Thompson and Pressel share remarkable teen prodigy stories.
Thompson was 12 when she qualified to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open. She won her first LPGA title at 16.
Pressel, now 27, was 12 when she qualified to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open, turning 13 just before playing at Pine Needles. As a 17-year-old amateur, she tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, losing out when Birdie Kim holed out from a greenside bunker at the 72nd hole. At 18, Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco.
Ko knows it’s more than a four-woman race to the finish, especially if the tees are up again, as they were in the third round.
“It’s a pretty packed leaderboard,” Ko said. “I don't know how the course setup is going to be tomorrow, but I think the course setup will play a huge factor, because, personally, with them putting some tees forward, it doesn't mean that only the long hitters are going to get on in two. Average distance players like me are reaching the par 5s as well.”
With more rain expected, the course could play longer, but the greens will be softer, holding shots better.
Ko has proven she has the game for any kind of course or setup. She has proven she has the game to make history.