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Lydia the Ko-leader at Clearwater
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World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko from NZ

It was a moment that summed up Lydia Ko’s brilliance. The most famous 15-year-old in New Zealand hit her eagle putt from the fringe of the green on the par 5 14th at the Clearwater Golf Club and watched.

The 12m putt down and across the slope had the perfect pace, hit the flag and found the bottom of the cup. It was met by raucous applause from the biggest gallery on course.

The eagle catapulted the World No.1 amateur into the lead and was the defining moment of round two of the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.

“It was a turning point for me,” said Ko, who was the only Kiwi to make the two-round cut.

“I wanted a couple of birdies before that but they just didn’t go in the hole. But then you know that 12m putt it just drained in and it kind of made up for today and the first round as well.”

From there she never looked back. The wonder-teen will begin the final round in a share of the lead with Korean Seon Woo Bae who climbed 33 places with a remarkable eight under par 64 that broke the course record.

Italian Giulia Sergas (68) climbed to third and overnight leader Australian Nikki Campbell (71) dropped to fourth place.

Ko, who began the day in a share of fourth place, made birdie on the par 3 16th and then added another on the par 5 second from six feet to get to six under for the tournament.

Her flawless ball striking continued. The only display of any weakness was when she flubbed a chip on the par 5 fifth. It didn’t matter as she made a 15 foot save for par in nonchalant fashion.

“I was happy with that save. I got a really bad lie with the chip and I didn’t know where that ball was going to go. I wasn’t that happy about that hole even though I made the par.”

The birdies continued on the following hole, the par four sixth, and then she dropped her first shot of the day with a three-putt bogey on the par four seventh.

“(It) wasn’t because I hit it badly it was a short putt mistake so it is not something serious. I am hitting the ball well.

“I am pretty happy. I had kind of a struggle the last three holes but I made par on the last two so that was ok. I don’t think that there was something huge to complain about and I made an eagle so it was pretty good.”

She parred her way in finish on six under and a chance of becoming the first Kiwi to win the event. Ko knows there will be nerves standing on the first tee in the final group tomorrow.

“[The nerves] will be there tomorrow but I just have to control my nerves and that is what happens every time. I have been playing pretty good so hopefully I can play like I have the last two days. It was nice to see a lot of me out there today. I definitely felt their support.”

Ko wasn’t the only one burning up the Clearwater course in the searing summer conditions.

A few groups behind the crowds of Ko, rookie Korean pro Bae was making birdies like it was no big deal on her way to a course record eight under par 64. 

Korean Seon Woo Bae

Bae, who opened with a two over par 74, enjoyed being out of the spotlight as she added nine birdies and a bogey to card the low round of the championship.

Bae’s remarkable round was one better than the seven under par 65 shot by Australian Katherine Hull in the inaugural championship in 2009.

It was a consistently excellent round as she made the turn in five under par 31. She added three more birdies to claim a share of the lead and then dropped a shot at the seventh (her 16th).  It was just a momentary hiccup as she added a further birdie on eight to complete a fine round.

The 18-year-old has strong links with Christchurch. The Korean has been in golfing camps in the city for the past four years at nearby Harewood Golf Club and this year for the past two months at Terrace Downs.

She took advantage of a sponsor invite last week at the Masters in Australia which earned her another start this week in New Zealand.

“I am very pleased. It is my best score ever. It is nice to be in Christchurch. It is like my other home because I have been here so much,” Bae said.

“I made a lot of putts today. It was the best I have putted before.”

She has been part of the Korean Academy and after a solid amateur career she is now in the rookie professional programme.

It is by far her best with nine birdies and a solitary dropped shot at the seventh after starting on the 10th hole.

Sergas, the Italian who has finished top 10 in the event, was pleased with her second round effort.

“My long game was the key to my scoring today,” said Sergas. “I was hitting the ball really long and it set up a few opportunities I really feed off [playing partner] Nikki [Campbell]…we had a lot of fun out there.”

Campbell added: “I didn’t feed off her because she was always 100m ahead of me. I am really happy to be in contention and I will be going out to put some pressures on the leaders tomorrow.”

The two round cut for the event of the leading 50 professionals and ties was made at three over par and Kiwi Cathryn Bristow (79, 69) missed by one stroke. Fifty-one pros and five amateurs made the cut.

But all attention tomorrow will be on young Lydia Ko as she carries the hopes of a nation and as tries to become the first New Zealander to win the national open.     

Tickets available at the gate.

 

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