Eagles lift Ciganda to share of LPGA lead in Arizona

golf31 March 2024 04:27| © AFP
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Carlota Ciganda © Gallo Images

Spain's Carlota Ciganda conjured two eagles in a six-under-par 66 to share the third-round lead with Kim Hyo-joo and Sarah Schmelzel in the LPGA Ford Championship in Arizona.

In windy conditions that world No 1 Nelly Korda branded "brutal," Ciganda added three birdies, chipping in for a birdie at 18 for her share of the lead on 15-under-par 201.

Kim birdied three of the first four holes then parred the last 14 for a three-under-par 69.

Schmelzel, gunning for a first LPGA title in her hometown tournament at Seville Golf and Country Club just outside Phoenix, had four birdies in her two-under-par 70.

Ciganda, whose two LPGA tournament wins came in 2016, got her round going with an eagle at the fifth and kept climbing with birdies at seven and 13. After a bogey at the 14th, she rolled in a 12-foot eagle putt from off the green at 16.

"It's a hole that fits my eye pretty good," Ciganda said of the 16th. "The pin was in the front. I hit a really good shot on Thursday, very similar pin.

"So I was like just try to hit the same shot. It went perfect, right off the bunker, couple good bounces, and ended up 12 feet just outside the green. I made a very good putt for eagle."

Ciganda was delighted with a six-under on a "very tricky day".

"The wind is really strong. Lots of side winds. It's just hard," said the Spaniard, who lives in the Phoenix area.

Schmelzel, who was in a three-way tie for the 54-hole lead at the Blue Bay tournament in China this month, said the idea of winning a first LPGA title in front of a hometown crowd was tantalising.

But she had to put those thoughts aside as she battled the demanding conditions on Saturday.

"It was really tough out there, so it was absolute grind just to shoot under par this afternoon, so I'm really happy with it," she said.

The leading trio were one stroke in front of Sweden's Maja Stark, who carded a 66, and Japan's Yuka Saso, who signed for a 69.

South Korean Lee Mi-hyang, who teed off early and missed the worst of the winds, had eight birdies in an impressive eight-under 64 that put her in a group of 10 players on 203.

That group also included Korda, who is vying for a third win in as many starts this year, and former world No 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who needs one more victory to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

In all, 34 players were within five shots of the lead going into Sunday's final round, when rain is in the forecast.

Lee, who was celebrating her 31st birthday, called it a "perfect day."

"I think most players really like the bogey-free day," she said. "Also eight birdies, good ball striking – really good memory for my birthday."

Australian Hannah Green, who carded a 61 on Friday to take one-shot lead through 36 holes, carded a three-over-par 75 that left her tied for 21st on 205.