Inbee Park birdies 18th to take Kia Classic lead

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — Inbee Park curled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th for her second straight 5-under 67 and the third-round lead Saturday in the Kia Classic, the final event before the major ANA Inspiration.

Winless in 12 months, the seven-time major champion from South Korea had a one-stroke advantage over Nasa Hataoka after a low-scoring day in perfect conditions at Aviara Golf Club.

“I think just a combination of consistency and the putting,” Park said. “I holed some good putts, especially on the back nine.”

Seeking her 20th LPGA Tour victory, Park had a 14-under 202 total.

“Just the feel on the greens is really good this week and I really want to keep that going tomorrow,” Park said. “Hopefully, I can hit a lot of fairways and greens.”

Hataoka, the 20-year-old Japanese player who won two LPGA Tour titles last season, shot a 64.

“I started out playing really well, attacking the pins, and had a lot of par saves as well, good par saves,” Hataoka said through a translator. “Definitely wanted to go low today. The conditions were fairly good today, so glad I was able to shoot a good round.”

Thidapa Suwannapura was two strokes back after a 70.

Mi Jung Hur had a course-record 62 to join top-ranked Sung Hyun Park at 11 under. Hur had seven straight birdies on the back nine.

“I got a goose bump,” Hur said. “So excited playing the back nine. Had great shot and great putt and made seven birdies in a row. I had another chance on 18, but I missed it.”

Tied with Suwannapura for the second-round lead, Sung Hyun Park shot 71. She dropped four strokes on the first six holes — making a double bogey on the par-3 third — then rallied with six birdies in a 10-hole stretch before closing with a bogey.

Azahara Munoz (68), Gaby Lopez (68) and Mariajo Uribe (69) were 10 under. Lydia Ko, the 2016 winner, had a 67 to top the group at 9 under, and Jin Young Ko (67) and Stacy Lewis (69) were 8 under.

“The golf course was a lot softer than I thought it was going to be,” Lewis said. “I think with the heat they probably threw some water on it. The greens stayed receptive all day long. I felt like it played pretty fair. … I think it’s good to see birdies. You don’t want to see us struggling.

Lewis is making her third start since the birth of daughter Chesnee in late October. She missed the cut last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix after tying for sixth in the opener in Florida in January.

“Really excited with the way I’m playing, especially going into next week,” Lewis said.

Jin Young Ko, the Founders Cup winner, rebounded from a second-round 73.

Lexi Thompson was even par after a 72.

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