KAWAGOE, Japan (Reuters) -World number one Nelly Korda pulled within tantalising reach of the gold medal in Olympic women’s golf on Friday, as Aditi Ashok boosted India’s hopes of an unlikely podium spot after the third round at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Overnight leader by four strokes, American Korda carded a two-under 69 to lead by three from Ashok (68) on a 15-under total of 198.
After setting the course ablaze with a 62 on Thursday, Korda had to battle through a wayward back nine but scrambled well to notch 10 consecutive pars en route to the clubhouse to keep clear of the pack.
“I was kind of spraying it all over the place,” Korda told reporters.
“I had some testy par putts, but I made all pars and I fought really hard to stay in it or ahead of it.
“If I was sloppy and didn’t fight the way I did I could have definitely shot a couple over par on the back nine, at least. But I never give up.”
Former world number one Lydia Ko stormed into medal contention, the New Zealander shooting a 66 to finish in the bronze position on 10-under with Australian Hannah Green (67), Dane Emily Kristene Pedersen (70) and home hope Mone Inami (68).
Korda and Ashok could well have their medals sewn up already depending on the weather.
With the threat of a tropical storm brewing, organisers have brought tee times forward on Saturday morning in the hope of completing the final round.
If the round is unable to be completed, the tournament will revert to the 54-hole results.
In her second Olympics, and with her mum carrying her bag, world number 200 Ashok played superbly, rolling in a birdie on the 17th to take outright second and put some pressure on Korda.
As an 18-year-old at Rio five years ago, India’s top ranked player caused a stir in her home nation when she was in contention at the halfway mark. She faded to finish 41st at her debut Games where her father was caddie but in Japan she has brought a hot putter and barely put a foot wrong.
She said she was glad to put golf in the spotlight in India, where cricket is a sporting religion.
“I think no matter how do I this week, people have heard about golf and they continue to tune in if they have extended the golf coverage in India because I’m in the top three,” she said.
Korda praised Ashok as a “sneaky player”.
“She has some kind of swagger on the putting green. She owns it,” said the 23-year-old daughter of former Australian Open tennis champion Petr.
After Hideki Matsuyama narrowly missed out on a medal in the men’s event, Inami has emerged as a podium hope for the hosts.
A bogey on the 18th cost the 22-year-old outright third but she was thrilled with her position.
“I think the most exciting (thing) for the (Japanese) kids is to be able to watch us contend at the top of the leaderboard,” said Inami, whose team mate Nasa Hataoka (67) is in a tie for seventh on eight-under, seven behind Korda.
China’s first major winner Feng Shanshan shot a 68 to be eight behind the leader.
Rio champion Park Inbee’s hopes of defending her title all but ended with a 71, leaving her 12 shots adrift.
(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)