Golf: Ernst takes over at the top in Mexico – Metro US

Golf: Ernst takes over at the top in Mexico

Golf: Ernst takes over at the top in Mexico

(Reuters) – American Austin Ernst moved one step closer to her second LPGA title with three birdies in her last six holes to seize a one-stroke lead after the third round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico City on Saturday.

The 24-year-old Ernst, who clinched her maiden victory on the circuit with a playoff win over South Korea’s Kim In-kyung at the 2014 Portland Classic, carded a flawless five-under-par 67 for a 10-under total of 206.

Second-round leader Sarah Jane Smith of Australia slipped back with a level-par 72 at Club de Golf Mexico to end the day in a tie for second with Spaniard Carlota Ciganda (68).

American Angela Stanford (69), Karine Icher of France (70) and South Korean Hur Mi-jung (71) were a further stroke back at eight-under.

“I have been hitting my drive pretty well, and I have had a lot of good looks at birdie this week,” Ernst told reporters after shooting a second successive 67.

“Today I still made five birdies so I have just made it very easy when I haven’t been sure about myself. I have been playing very well this week.

“I have been hitting the ball well and putting wise … it seems like the speed is really good or the line is barely off.”

Ciganda, who held a share of the first-round lead, made a sizzling start on Saturday with four consecutive birdies from the par-five second before losing momentum.

“I started playing very good … I felt really comfortable and then I slowed down a little bit,” said the Spaniard, who won her first LPGA title at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last month.

“But I’m still playing good – hitting lots fairways, greens. I’m happy with the round.”

Smith, an LPGA rookie in 2006 whose best finish was a tie for second at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship, conceded she had felt a little shaky holding her first 36-hole lead on the circuit.

“I was pretty nervous most of the day,” she said. “I wouldn’t say I handled it well but I scrambled well, so that should give me some confidence for tomorrow.”

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)