Choi in the driver seat at KLGCC

Na Yeon Choi (© Danisharief Mohamad / IMG)

Kuala Lumpur: Nine top ten finishes this season but yet to add to her four career LPGA wins so far in 2011.

All that might just change tomorrow for world number four Na Yeon Choi, who displayed her credentials as one of the most consistent performers on tour by taking a slim one stroke lead into the final round of the US$1.9 million Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia tomorrow.

The 23-year-old Choi played a solid round of five birdies against a single bogey for four-under 67 to head the field on eleven-under 201 ahead of overnight co-leader Brittany Lang, who recovered from a poor opening  nine, nailing four birdies after a three-hour long storm delay in the afternoon to stay within touch with a 69. Lurking a further stroke behind is last year’s LPGA Rookie of the Year Azahara Munoz, who rode on a round 68 to remain in contention of her first LPGA title.

The trio of Stacy Lewis, Pak Se Ri and world number one Yani Tseng are tied fourth on eight-under  205.

Choi could have been further ahead after missing the pin by inches with her first shot on the par-three 15th but the Korean who finished second at the Hana Bank Championship last week in her homeland Korea is raring to go. “I think I have a good feel about my game lately. I played good last week, but she (Tseng) played better than me. That’s why I finished runner‑up. But I should be doing all right, and I have a great feeling.”

“The delays, they bother me but I know I can’t control the weather so I have to accept it. I mean really I am unable to change anything. I will just keep doing what I’m doing,” Choi commented on the rain delays.

Hunting for her first LPGA title, Lang started her day with a bit of a stutter, bogeying the 5th and the 8th but came back alive after the delay with birdies on the 13th, 15th, 16th, and 18th and will have the company of  Munoz, who mixed five birdies with two bogeys.

“Today I started pretty good. I made four birdies in the first seven holes, but then I struggled a little bit. I made a good birdie on 16, so that kind of helped out. You know, we had a really good time. I really like them, these two (Tseng and Choi). We have a lot of players up on top of the leader board, so it should be interesting tomorrow.”

On her chances of claiming the title Munoz said, “It’s been a long time on the LPGA (Tour) since I was close on the leaderboard. I’ve been close in Europe, but not in the States. You know, I’m just really excited. I’m just going to go out there and try to enjoy it, one shot at a time.”

But the highlights of the day came from Swede Anna Nordquist and Korean veteran Se Ri Pak, who both registered stellar rounds of 65. Pak vaulted up the leader board to finish the day joint 4th and Nordquist moved from 51st on Friday to joint 15th at the end of play today. Starting on the 10th tee, Nordquist hit five birdies on 10, 11, 13, 14 and 18 before following that up with a further three birdies on second, third and sixth with the only blemish of the day coming on the closing ninth, when she double bogeyed. Pak had a sensational back nine birdieing 10, 11, 13, 14 and 15 to go with her birdies on 4 and 7.

World number one Yani Tseng continued to make her presence known on the course today. Whilst not making the best of  starts, bogeying three holes on the front nine and balancing that with two birdies, she made a good comeback on the back nine birdieing 10, 12, and 14 to finish the day with a score of 69, only four shots behind the leader and still very much in contention.

“I enjoy being out there with them (Choi and Munoz). I’m four shot back, so tomorrow I have to make the most of the final day. This is a great golf course. It’s going to be a lot of fun tomorrow and I’ll try to make more putts and see how the day goes.”

The highest placed Malaysian, Kelly Tan scored a 74, her only mistakes being bogies on 2, 7 and 10, but no birdies in her round meant that she struggled to improve her placing. “I struggled today. I didn’t feel at home on the course and didn’t shoot any birdies. I started with a bogey, three bogeys throughout, so I didn’t play good,” said Kelly.

“I think the rain delays affected my game. I sat down for two hours, and you lose a bit of focus. There is a lot of Malaysian food in the clubhouse so you find yourself eating at different times of the day than you’d planned.”

The fourth and final round tomorrow will commence at 7.10am with the leaders expected to tee-off at 9.15am.

Leading third round scores
201 Choi Na-yeon (KOR) 66-68-67
202 Brittany Lang (USA) 66-67-69
203 Azahara Munoz (ESP) 67-68-68
205  Par Se Ri (KOR) 72-68-65, Stacy Lewis (USA) 68-65-72, Yani Tseng (TPE) 69-67-69;
206 Suzann Pettersen (NOR) 68-69-69
207 Paula Creamer (USA) 71-67-69, Michelle Wie (US) 68-68-71
208 Kim In-kyung (KOr) 68-68-72
209 Sandra Gal (GER) 72-70-67

Selected scores
224 Kelly Tan (77-73-74), Aretha Pan (75-76-74)
227 Jean Chua (76-78-73)
222 Ainil Johani Abu Bakar (76-80-77)