SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — Lucy Li played with a lead for the first time on the LPGA Tour and the 19-year-old was up to it on Saturday, recovering from a slow start for a 4-under 67 and a one-take lead in the Dana Open.
Li was 2 on seven holes and quickly fades from the picture at Highland Meadows when she responded with five birdies over the next 10 holes to regain the lead and set up a final round filled with possibilities.
Lexi Thompson birdied three straight late in the round for a 65, while Caroline Masson of Germany also had a 65. They were one stroke behind.
Six other players were three shots behind, including two-time tournament winner Lydia Ko who had the lowest round of the day at 64.
“I was probably a little nervous. It wasn’t something crazy, but I haven’t felt nervous in a long time,” Li said. “Actually doing those bogeys might have helped a little bit, just eliminating that and knowing that I could just coast it a bit.”
Li was 14-under 199, and the final group offers a pair of wonderkids.
Thompson was 12 when she first qualified for the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles. Seven years later, Li broke her record by qualifying for the 2014 Women’s Open at No. 2 Pinehurst.
“It’ll be awesome,” Thompson said. “I’ve played with her a bit – not so much here. But I think everyone knows what an amazing player she is. That says a lot about how much work she put into her game, just the amount of talent she has.
Li remembers playing a practice round with Thompson at the 2014 Women’s Open.
“She was about 60 yards ahead of me. She’s probably still 20 yards ahead of me,” Li said. She’s much–a little older than me.
Thompson is 27 years old.
This week has already seemed like a bonus for the California teenager. Li secured his LPGA Tour card for next year with two wins and a second-place finish on the Epson Tour, which offers LPGA cards to its top 10 players.
Li was invited by a sponsor in Canada last week and tied for ninth at the CP Women’s Open, which brought her to the field in Ohio. She now has a chance to win and join the LPGA Tour for the final two months of the season.
But that will require navigating a traffic jam of key players, a roster that includes four major champions. Also in the mix is Nasa Hataoka, the defending champion, who had a 67 and was in the big group at 11-under 202.
Equally intimidating is Ko, who won at Highland Meadows in 2014 and 2016 and had great luck in 2020 until bogeyed on the par-5 closing hole.
Ko started the back nine and after a bogey on the 11, she broke through for the eagle at No. 12 and chained a series of birdies. She had a chance to go even lower on her last hole, the accessible par-4 ninth. But her chip from the right of the green didn’t come up the hill, she chipped hard and missed the par putt.
“They moved the tee a bit forward at 12 and I was just, ‘Hit driver off the tee.’ I’m only a corner away,” she said. “It’s not the best finish…. I did what I had to do.
For Thompson, the No. 7 player in the women’s world ranking, it’s another chance to finish more than three years without winning.
“I go into every tournament wanting to win. Yeah, it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to in a few events, but that’s golf,” Thompson said. “I think you never lose; you always learn. There’s always something to build on and learn from these days.
“It’s golf. I mean, it’s a crazy game. It may be with you one day and not the next.
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