Lydia Ko made a strong move Saturday to give herself a chance at her fifth LPGA victory this year and to move back ahead in the Rolex Player of the Year race.
With a 6-under-par 65, Ko climbed 17 spots, into a tie for sixth in the weather-delayed Sime Darby Malaysia. She’s five shots behind Shanshan Feng, who still has one hole to play in the suspended third round.
“I’ve been striking the ball pretty well,” said Ko, the Rolex world No. 1. “I’m making a few putts here and there, but the putts that didn’t drop on the first day, kind of have been dropping the past two days. Those little things I think make the difference at the end of the day. But I’ve still got one long day tomorrow, so I’ve just got to stick to the same game plan.”
Ko also had it going low Friday but ended that round knocking her approach at the final hole over the green and into the water, leaving her with a bogey-double bogey finish. She left Saturday’s round with a terrific up and down, holing a 20-foot putt to save par.
“Yesterday, I was playing great but had a mediocre to bad finish, but I made a really good putt on the last for par today,” Ko said. “I gave myself a lot of looks at birdies today. I think that was the big difference from yesterday to today.”
Even if Ko, 19, doesn’t win, she can still make a big move in the games within the game. She’s 13 points behind Ariya Jutanugarn in the Rolex Player of the Year race, just $14,928 behind her in the money-winnings race and only 116 points behind her in the Race to the CME Globe.
If Ko wins, she will claim 30 Rolex POY points and move ahead of Jutanugarn. A second-place finish is worth 12 points.
Jutanugarn (70) is sitting tied for 41st on the Sime Darby leaderboard, 13 shots off the lead. While Ko hasn’t shown her best form since winning the Olympic silver medal in August, she’s making a nice weekend run in Kuala Lumpur. She had a double bogey in the first and second rounds, but Ko turned in a clean card Saturday with a bogey-free round of six birdies. After hitting just eight greens in regulation in the first round, Ko’s ball striking has sharpened. She hit 14 greens in the second and third rounds.
“I just have to stay positive and confident for tomorrow,” Ko said.
Ko is playing with a local caddie this week, Sargunan Suntharaj. Her plan is to team with Gary Matthews as her caddie at next week’s Toto Japan Classic and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship and then reassess her caddie options in the off-season. Matthews has caddied in the past for Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas.
“I’ve never worked with Gunan before, but I’ve met him before and I think that helps,” Ko said. “He’s got a lot of local experience and has caddied before on the big stage.”
Suntharaj caddied for David Lipsky on the European Tour.
Jason Hamilton, whom Ko fired last week after two years as her caddie, told New Zealand’s Fairfax Media that there were some “chemistry” issues that developed as her form fell off after the Olympics.
“Probably, this was the first serious test our relationship had taken on as it is easy to be all happy and smiles when things are going well and winning tournaments and picking up six-figure checks all the time,” Hamilton said. “But this was the first time really in the two years together where the relationship was put under some stress, whether it be from out of form play or poor decisions.”
Ko said the two parted amicably.
“It was a little bit unexpected, but in this line of work it should never be unexpected, really,” Hamilton said. “There are only two kinds of caddies, those that have been fired and those who are about to be fired.”