Ko escapes from a bunker today – photo Chris Keane USGA

An impressive third round of 1 over 72 over the increasingly demanding Crystal Creek layout at the Champions Golf Club in Houston has given New Zealand’s Lydia Ko a realistic chance of a first US Women’s Open title.

Ko’s round, which included one birdie and two bogeys was one of the better of the day and after starting the day in a share of 14th position and six shots from the lead of Hinako Shibuno, she finds herself just four behind and only four players ahead of her as she enters tomorrow’s final round.

Of the four players ahead of her, only Shibuno has previously won a major title so Ko’s chances may well be dependent on how Shibuno handles the pressure of winning the female game’s greatest title.

Ko is four shots behind the impressive front-runner but this is a golf course on which an accident is waiting to happen around every corner and the Japanese player’s narrow lead leaves her vulnerable tomorrow.

Two late bogeys cost the 2019 AIG Women’s Open Champion a substantial lead but she remains the player to beat tomorrow.

For Ko it is not only those ahead of her on the leaderboard she needs to consider, but also those in her rear vision mirror, as the likes of, Ariya Jutanugarn, Jin Young Ko and Sei Young Kim are just one (Jutanugarn) and two behind Ko and lurking as yet contenders for the title.

“It was pretty tough, especially at the start.” said Ko when asked how demanding the course played today.

“I think going into the day I knew that it was a different wind direction to the other days, so I knew that the holes would play quite differently. But with the first few holes being all into the wind and it raining last from yesterday afternoon overnight I think definitely made the course a lot softer, hence made it a lot longer.”

The issue of mud on the ball was a factor for all today and perhaps added an additional element of luck not normally the case in major championship golf.

“We had one shot on No. 2 and it’s like, Do I need to aim like on the next tee box for it to like move? Because it’s really hard. It’s not like there’s an exact science — or maybe there is, I just don’t know that I guess equation on how to factor mud balls.”

Ko was asked as to how she felt about her chances tomorrow.

“I think definitely coming from behind you’re playing with a little bit more of an aggressive strategy compared to somebody that’s probably trying to protect the lead or run off with the lead.

“But she (Shibuno) seems like she’s doing an incredible job and she’s also a major champion, so she’s been out there being out there like a smiling Cinderella.

“So I’m sure at points it’s going to feel like it’s going to be tough to catch her, but I just got to go out there, focus on my game and play the best golf I can and what happens outside of that is, I just got to accept what comes my way.”

Hannah Green is the leading Australian after her round of two over par 73 saw her improve several places from where she stood on the cutline through 36 holes. Green is at 5 over and tied for 33rd.

Hannah Green today – leads the Australians – photo USGA

Green was pleasantly surprised at the progress she made despite shooting over par today.

“It felt like I was more consistent than what the score showed, but it was pretty tough there,” said the Perth golfer.

“I was saying to my caddie, I don’t think I’ve ever hit so many hybrids into par-4s and par-3s before. The first three holes I had hybrid, so, yeah, it was tough. Looking at my score I was quite surprised that I’m in the position that I am. Even shooting over par I’ve gained some strokes on the field.”

Gabriela Ruffels is one shot behind Green at 6 over and in a share of 39th place, Minjee Lee is at 7 over and Su Oh at 10 over.

The round of the day and the equal best round of the week came from Ji Yeong Kim2 who, after starting the day ten shots from the lead, moved from the cutline to a share of third and just three from the lead. Her effort highlights just what might be possible with an under par round tomorrow.

Hinako Shibuno – her lead reduced to one – photo Simon Bruty USGA