World No. 2 Choi Na-yeon emerged from a two-and-a-half-hour storm delay to birdie the last hole and dramatically snatch a share of the HSBC Women’s Champions lead alongside Stacy Lewis yesterday.
Choi, who is eyeing the No. 1 ranking of Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, holed a 10-footer in front of a big gallery on the damp 18th green to card a five-under-par 67 for a total of 14-under 202 at Singapore’s par-72 Sentosa Golf Club.
The putt ended an engrossing day-long duel between South Korean Choi and the US’ Lewis, who was incensed when play was halted with the final group already on the 18th fairway and with her narrow one-shot lead in the balance.
When they finally resumed, after a torrential downpour, Choi fired closest to the flag and steadied herself to drain the psychologically important birdie, which left her beaming ahead of today’s final round.
“I think that frees me up for tomorrow. I think I can remember that feeling for tomorrow,” she said. “I mean, I finished strong and that putt, I hit it pretty solid.”
Lewis, the world No. 4, had remonstrated with officials when play was suspended and bemoaned a “very frustrating” day after she gave up a two-shot overnight lead, finishing with a 69.
Choi and Lewis are to play the last round with the US’ Paula Creamer, who scored 69 to lie two shots back from the leaders.
Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, 17, Danielle Kang, Yoo Sun-young and Azahara Munoz are the closest challengers to the top trio, lying three strokes behind Creamer on nine-under-par 207.
Tseng’s 107-week reign as world No. 1 cannot end in Singapore and it was just as well, as the frowning “Pride of Taiwan” bogeyed four out of eight holes around the turn before finishing with 71 for 212, 10 shots off the lead.
Tseng, now into her third year at the top of women’s golf, started the season positively with top-three finishes in Australia and Thailand, but a poor final position today will put her No. 1 ranking in serious jeopardy.
Lewis started the day two shots clear, but two bogeys in her first three holes immediately plunged her into a dogfight with Choi, who opened with two birdies to go top.
Lewis hit back with birdies on seven, eight and nine and another on 12 as she twice pulled level with Choi, only for the South Korean to retake the lead with birdies on 10 and 14.
On the next hole, the par-four 15th, Lewis stormed back into the lead with a snaking birdie putt, while Choi left herself too much to do for par and took bogey.
As they teed off on 18, Lewis looked certain to claim the clubhouse lead — until the siren sounded to halt play, as dark clouds loomed. Creamer, playing one group ahead, finished her round with a sizzling birdie, in the nick of time.