A sizzling 28 on the back nine — 9 under par — lifted Jessica Korda to an 11-under 60, just one shot off the LPGA Tour scoring mark. But she trails Danielle Kang by two shots at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Kang tied her career low with an 8-under 63. She was at 21-under 192 through three bogey-free rounds. Her total tied an LPGA mark for raw score through 54 holes (shared by three others) and shattered the tournament’s 54-hole record (200).
Korda’s younger sister, Nelly (67), is six shots behind the leader. South Korea’s In Gee Chun (67) is fourth, eight shots back.
Jessica Korda followed a ho-hum start with birdies on six of her first seven holes on the second nine. She then finished with a huge kick, making an eagle on the 537-yard 17th hole, which she reached in two with a 4-iron, pouring in an 18-foot, right-to-left putt.
Korda added a ninth birdie at the challenging, water-guarded par-3 18th, where she struck a soft 6-iron to 9 feet.
The slick downhill putt tumbled in on its last turn, giving Korda the tour’s first 60 since Paula Creamer in the 2008 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. Korda became the fifth LPGA player to ever shoot that number.
The back-nine birdies and eagles were arriving at such a pace that neither Korda nor those playing alongside could keep up with the dizzying math. The two celebrities in her group — NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Fox television anchor Brett Baier — knew something special was happening and just tried to stay out of her way.
Korda’s round was just one shot off the record of 59 by Annika Sorenstam nearly 20 years ago in Phoenix.
“I didn’t process what exactly was happening until I made that putt on 17,” Korda said. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s nice.’ . . . Days like today don’t come often, so you really cherish them when they do. Everything has to come together to have a day like today.”
Fitzgerald, who said he watches the LPGA more than he does the PGA Tour, said of Korda, “It was mastery at its finest. She had complete command of her ball today.”
On a day conducive to low scoring — overcast, light wind, and late morning rain that softened greens — Kang, a five-time LPGA champion, made eight birdies against no bogeys.
Her streak without a bogey was stretched to 70 holes, dating to the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in December.
The eight birdies were nice, but Kang took particular pride in a hard-fought par at the 17th that kept her card clean. She chunked her 5-wood second shot into a pond fronting the green, took a penalty drop, hit wedge to 11 feet, and made the par-saving putt. When it fell, she gave a belt-high, intense fist pump. She then birdied the last hole from 4 feet to push her lead to two shots.
“Overall, I think my game is pretty solid,” Kang said. “I think my mental game is pretty strong this week. Just kind of chugging along. That’s what I’m doing, is just focusing on what I need to hit, and what I need to execute. That’s pretty much it.”
European — Rory McIlroy will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the season-opening Abu Dhabi Championship in the United Arab Emirates after posting a 5-under-par 67.
McIlroy holed out from 73 yards to eagle the 10th and added five birdies to go 13 under, wrestling control of the tournament from Tyrrell Hatton (71), who trails by a shot.
“I thought I did well today. Obviously had that big stroke of luck on 10, the ball hitting the pin and going in,” the four-time major champion said. “Sometimes that’s what you need in golf tournaments to be in contention and to end up winning is those little strokes of luck every now and again.”
Hatton held a 5-shot lead when play was halted Friday because of fading light, but he finished the second round up by just a shot early Saturday before the third round started.
“I just felt like I had nothing really go my way,” Hatton said of his 71. “Hit a couple decent shots and ran into a bunker with a terrible lie and had quite a few putts burning the edge or lipping out. Pretty disappointed.”
Tommy Fleetwood (67) had six birdies to put himself two shots behind McIlroy and alone in third place. He rolled in a putt on the 12th from nearly 50 feet.
PGA — Max Homa made nine birdies and shrugged off a double bogey on the way to a 7-under 65 in the third round, joining Tony Finau and Si Woo Kim atop the leaderboard at 15-under 201 at The American Express in La Quinta, Calif.
Richy Werenski also shot a 65 and moved within a shot of the lead. Scotland’s Russell Knox shot the day’s low round with a 64.
Second-round leader Sungjae Im struggled to a 73, leaving him five shots off the lead after four bogeys — including a triple bogey on the ninth after putting two straight shots in the water. First-round leader Brandon Hagy shot a 72 and was even with Im at 10 under.
Homa is in prime position for his second career win in his first tournament of the new year. He began the day just three shots off Im’s pace at 8 under, and he swiftly closed the gap with four birdies in his first five holes.
Champions — Darren Clarke won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in La’upulehu-Kona, Hawaii, by two strokes for his second straight Champions Tour victory, playing the back nine in 6 under in a closing 8-under 64.
The 52-year-old former British Open winner from Northern Ireland started the back-nine run with birdies on Nos. 10-11, added two more on 13 and 14, made a 10-foot par save on 15 and birdied 16 and 17. He parred the 18th to cap the bogey-free round in the first event of the year.
Clarke finished at 21-under 195 at Hualalai Golf Course. He won the TimberTech Championship in early November in his final tour start last year.
Retief Goosen, tied for the second-round lead with Jerry Kelly, closed with a 64 to finish second. Kelly had a 68 to finish third at 17 under.