Lizette Salas catches Nelly Korda for share of lead at Women's PGA Championship

Lizette Salas fires a five-under 67 to secure a share of the lead after three rounds of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Lizette Salas of the U.S. tees off on the sixth hole. - AP

Lizette Salas, the first-round leader, fired a five-under 67 on Saturday to catch second-round leader Nelly Korda and secure a share of the lead after three rounds of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in Johns Creek, Georgia.

Salas torched the front nine in 30, including a dazzling stretch of six birdies in the first eight holes, to finish the third round with her third consecutive 67. That matched the 54-hole score for Korda, who followed Friday's 63 with a strong 68 as both golfers sit at 15-under 201.

The pair have a five-stroke advantage over a trio at 10 under, including Thailand's Patty Tavatanakit (65, low round of the day), Italian Giulia Molinaro (66) and France's Celine Boutier (69).

Further back with dwindling hopes for the PGA title are Dottie Ardina (68) of the Philippines at eight-under with Germany's Esther Henseleit (70) and Sweden's Madelene Sagstrom (71) tied for seventh at seven under.

Hyo Joo Kim of South Korea and Xiyu Lin of China each shot 70 on Saturday, leaving them in a distant ninth-place tie at 6-under. The story of the day was the duel between the 31-year-old Salas, whose only LPGA win was seven years ago at Kingsmill, and the 22-year-old Korda, who is fresh off her fifth career win last week.

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After Korda's head-turning round on Friday put her on top of the leaderboard, Salas hit back with three straight birdies on holes 1 through 3, then three more on Nos. 5, 7, and 8 to shoot out to 16 under before her day was halfway over.

The Azusa, California, native came back to earth with just one bogey and all pars the rest of the round, but it was good enough to have her sharing the lead entering Sunday.

"I got off to a really hot start, and I didn't realise I shot 30 [on the front nine] until I signed my scorecard," said Salas, who has two top-five finishes in majors, including a second-place finish at the 2019 Women's British Open. "Obviously it's fun when you play like that. I think it's good momentum going into tomorrow."

Despite failing to sink a birdie for the remainder of the round, Salas exuded confidence throughout after admitting on Thursday to going through mental-health issues while playing less golf during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

 

"I think when I came - when I finally unloaded the weight I was carrying to my team, first of all, I think that was a big turning point," Salas said, "and I think being okay to be vulnerable and ask for help, I think that - having that in my mind has been super helpful, and I think saying it this week was the right time to talk about it."

After ending her Friday round with six straight birdies, the scorching Korda made it eight with two more to start her Saturday. Though the Florida native only dropped two more on the day, she enjoyed a clean sheet without bogey and has a great chance at her fourth top-five finish in a major.

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"I hit it pretty close on 1, and then 2, I just reached it in two, two-putted for birdie. Lizette was rolling in some nice ones today, and I told myself, I've got to hit it close to even keep up with her," said Korda, whose best major finish was a tie for second at the 2020 ANA Inspiration.

The 21-year-old Tavatanakit, looking for her second major title this season after winning this year's ANA Inspiration, was virtually 10 shots off the pace until a blistering finish of five birdies in the final seven holes.

"I just blacked out. I kind of have a goldfish memory out there just because I was just trying to stay patient, and I did," said Tavatanakit. "I guess that's why I made four birdies in a row. The fourth one I was actually like, 'Okay, this is going to be my fourth one if I drop this,' and I did."

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