19 August 2016, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: World
No. 1 Lydia Ko chose the perfect moment to register the first
hole-in-one of her life today – and that sweetest of seven-iron shots
could potentially lead her to the promised land of Olympic glory in Rio
de Janeiro.
Standing in her way is the indomitable
figure of the Republic of Korea’s Inbee Park, the most decorated major
champion in the field, who held firm in blustery conditions to move two
strokes clear in the race to capture the first women’s Olympic gold
since 1900.
With the prospect of the winds increasing
in intensity – and the possibility of thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon –
the final round will now be played off the first and tenth tees at
07.00 with the leaders teeing off at 08.44 in order to avoid disruption
to a potentially thrilling climax.
Meanwhile Ko, the 19-year-old New
Zealander who has taken the golfing world by storm in three trophy-laden
years as a professional, defied gusty, swirling winds at Reserva de
Marapendi Golf Course to blaze a trail through the elite women’s field
and into serious medal contention.
At the end of a challenging day, which
witnessed several changes at the top of a powerful leaderboard, Ko found
herself in a tie for second place after a third round of 65 which
featured a dazzling outward nine holes of 29 – and the thrill of that
ace from 140 yards.
Park, a seven-time major winner, added a
third round 70 for a total of 202 to double her overnight lead to two
shots while Ko’s 54-hole total of 204, nine under par, send her hurtling
from 21st to second place alongside Gerina Piller. The American dropped
a shot at the 18th but managed to sign for a three-under-par 68 and
total of 204 while China’s Shanshan Feng matched that 68 to close in on
the leading pack on 205.
The capricious nature of the afternoon
gusts damaged a number of medal prospects, with Piller’s compatriot,
Stacy Lewis, shooting a 76 to slip back from second place into a tie for
eighth. Brooke Henderson of Canada, who won the Women’s PGA
Championship earlier this season, was only one shot better while Charley
Hull’s attempt to emulate Justin Rose’s men’s gold medal for Great
Britain also suffered a setback as she took 74.
The timing of Ko’s first hole-in-one
could not be more propitious, with the women’s Olympic competition
reaching a thrilling climax. The two Olympic events have now witnessed
four aces, with two in the men’s contest and two in one day for the
women, with Ko matching the feat of China’s Xi Yu Lin earlier in the
same day.
The Kiwi said: “This is the first one in a
practice round and tournaments, all included. I almost didn’t know how
to react, because it is your first one, and the wind is blowing and I
haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to hole?in?ones. I would
have loved to like done a dance or jumped up?and?down, but in that
situation, I think I was almost trying to cry, and then realised I had
11 more holes to play.
“It’s really cool. It just puts the
cherry on top. This week is about having fun and this experience, being
an Olympian and competing in the Olympics, and to have my first
hole-in-one, is something that I’ll never forget.”
The medal chase promises to be exciting
with Park, Ko and Piller at the head of affairs, and the experienced
Korean admitted: It was very challenging (in the) conditions. I feel
like I really struggled out there. My putting was really, really good
today, six birdies out in those conditions is phenomenal. I’m very happy
with where I’m positioned right now. “
In spite of the uncertainty over her
fitness due to a long-term thumb injury, Park has belief in her ability
to strike gold. She added: “Somewhere in my heart, after I made the
decision to play this week, I really believed in myself that I can do
it. If I didn’t have a trust in myself, I wouldn’t be playing this
week.”
Feng, who moved into podium contention,
confirmed that the wind had caused considerable difficulties. She
explained: “The wind stayed in the same direction but it was kind of
gusty at some points. It was hard out there, because even for me – and
I’m not a short hitter – I used 3?wood into the greens on three par 4s,
and that’s not very normal. It was really tough. You just need to stay
patient the whole day, and I think I did.”
Hull still believes she is playing well
enough to win. She said: “I scrambled quite well. I’m happy with the
position that I’m in. And I’m only in tied fifth position and that’s
nothing going into tomorrow. Anything can happen on a Sunday in a
major – or in this case, the Olympics.”
Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, the most
recent major champion in women’s golf, was forced to retire after 13
holes due to a knee injury.
Quotes of the Day – Round 3
Inbee Park 202 (66, 66, 70):
“I think having big names on the leaderboard can make everything a lot
more exciting and that can help women’s golf grow a lot bigger. I’m very
happy what we are showing in the Olympic golf right now. It’s really
exciting for everyone. Really exciting for me. Really exciting for all
the other players that are competing. Exciting for all the people who
are watching. Yeah, it’s a great scenario.”
Lydia Ko 204 (69, 70, 65): “This
week has been great. Even without considering today, I think just this
experience, being here, representing New Zealand, seeing some of the
other athletes from New Zealand, I think that is an inspiration, and I
think that’s what the Olympics is about. Obviously the results and the
medals are great, but at the end of the day, it’s about the world’s best
athletes together and having a great time and at the end, having to
compete to stand on the podium.”
Gerina Piller 204 (69, 67, 68): “I would say it’s one of the biggest (rounds of her life),
yes. Playing the Solheim Cup is definitely dear to my heart and trying
to win that for the country. But I’ve never played in the final round
of an Olympics before competing for a medal. It’s going to be pretty
special. I’m going to soak it in all in, take it all in, and no matter
what the outcome, I’m proud to be American.”
Shanshan Feng 205 (70, 67. 68): “Back
in China, normally we are only on golf channels, but this time people
can see us on any (television) channels. I think that’s a great chance
to let the Chinese know how good the Chinese players are, and hopefully
they can just fall in love with the sport and join this sport.”
Paula Reto 209 (74, 67, 68): “It (Olympic Games)
feels awesome. It’s almost like you’ve got something above some
people. Just the experience, it’s something you can’t buy. It’s
something you have to earn. We love the golf course. It’s great. For
us to play for the first time in a competition since it’s been built –
that’s awesome.”
Ariya Jutanugarn (WD due to knee injury): “Yeah,
very disappointed, because it’s the Olympics, and I told my caddie that
I want to finish like four days. I don’t care how many over I’m going
to be, but I’m thinking about my career.”
To find a full list of player transcripts from the Olympic Games golf competition, visit:
www.asapsports.com
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