South Korean player Lim Hee-jeong at the BMW Ladies Championship in Busan on Saturday. (Yonhap)
After her third consecutive bogey-free round, South Korean tour star Lim Hee-jeong is on the verge of her maiden LPGA victory on home soil.
Lim, a four-time Korea LPGA (KLPGA) winner, opened up a four-stroke lead through 54 holes at the BMW Ladies Championship on Saturday in Busan, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
Lim, who collected seven birdies en route to a 65 at the par-72 LPGA International Busan, leads the 84-player field at 18-under.
World No. 2 Ko Jin-young and another KLPGA player, An Narin, are tied for second at 14-under.
Danielle Kang, who was the runner-up at the inaugural BMW event two years ago, is another stroke back in a tie for fourth with KLPGA golfer Ryu Hae-ran.
Lim remains the only player in Busan this week without a bogey after three days.
If Lim captures the tournament Sunday as a non-LPGA member, she will be eligible for full-time status on the U.S. circuit for the following season.
South Korea first hosted an LPGA event in 2002. Five South Korean players previously earned LPGA membership by winning previous iterations of the tournament under different title sponsors.
The most successful case so far has been Ko, who won the 2017 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship as a KLPGA player and then became world No. 1 and LPGA Player of the Year by 2019.
Ko, who ceded the No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda of the United States in June, will reclaim the top spot with a victory Sunday.
With Korda absent this week, a win at home will also propel Ko to the lead over the American in the Player of the Year points race.
The next South Korean LPGA victory will be the 200th by a player from the country. Including ties, there are six players inside the top 10 heading into the final round.
Lim, 21, began the third round tied for the lead with An at 11-under. But An blinked first with a bogey on the opening hole, and Lim picked up four birdies on the front nine alone to open up a four-shot lead over her rival.
Lim cruised from there with three more birdies down the stretch.
“I struck the ball really well and didn‘t run into any major trouble,” Lim said. “I felt pretty comfortable today. But there are a lot of talented players out here, and Jin-young is right there in second place. I won’t let my guard down.”
Lim has gone 67-66-65 for her first three rounds and said she may need another round in the 60s to close out the deal.
“We‘ve seen players go six- or seven-under per round here, and I can’t afford to be too passive,” she said. “I‘ll have to stay aggressive and try to get as many birdies as possible tomorrow.”
Ko came into this tournament as LPGA’s hottest golfer, with two victories over her past four starts. She said she could have gone even lower than a 67, her second straight bogey-free round, and she‘s confident she has another great round left in her.
“I know exactly what I have to do on this course,” Ko said. “I can’t wait for tomorrow. I am a few strokes behind (the leader), but I‘ll do the best I can.” (Yonhap)