Park leads the hunt for gold in Rio

Korea’s Inbee Park will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Olympic Women’s Golf Competition in Rio de Janeiro. Park carded a solid 70 in blustery conditions at the Reserva de Marapendi Olympic Course, with World No Lydia Ko of New Zealand and American Gerina Piller leading the chasing pack.

Inbee Park - Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Inbee Park – Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Seven-time Major winner Park has a 54-hole total of 202 while Ko’s superb 65, which included a hole-in-one at the eighth hole, placed her on 204 alongside Piller. The American signed for a 68 while China’s Shanshan Feng matched that to close in on the leading pack on 205.

The medal chase promises to be exciting with Park, Ko and Piller at the head of affairs, and the experienced Korean admitted: “It was very challenging (in the) conditions.  I feel like I really struggled out there.  My putting was really, really good today, six birdies out in those conditions is phenomenal. I’m very happy with where I’m positioned right now. “

In spite of the uncertainty over her fitness due to a long-term thumb injury, Park has belief in her ability to strike gold. She said: “Somewhere in my heart, after I made the decision to play this week, I really believed in myself that I can do it.  If I didn’t have a trust in myself, I wouldn’t be playing this week.”

Lydia Ko - Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Lydia Ko – Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The timing of Ko’s first hole-in-one could not be more propitious, with the women’s Olympic competition reaching a thrilling climax. The two Olympic events have now witnessed four aces, with two in the men’s contest and two in one day for the women, with Ko matching the feat of China’s Xi Yu Lin earlier in the same day.

The Kiwi said: “This is the first one in a practice round and tournaments, all included.  I almost didn’t know how to react, because it is your first one, and the wind is blowing and I haven’t had the best of luck when it comes to hole‑in‑ones.  I would have loved to like done a dance or jumped up‑and‑down, but in that situation, I think I was almost trying to cry, and then realised I had 11 more holes to play.

“It’s really cool.  It just puts the cherry on top.  This week is about having fun and this experience, being an Olympian and competing in the Olympics, and to have my first hole-in-one, is something that I’ll never forget.”

The capricious nature of the afternoon gusts damaged a number of medal prospects, with Piller’s compatriot, Stacy Lewis, shooting a 76 to slip back from second place into a tie for eighth. Brooke Henderson of Canada, who won the Women’s PGA Championship earlier this season, was only one shot better while Charley Hull’s attempt to emulate Justin Rose’s men’s gold medal for Great Britain also suffered a setback as she took 74.

With the prospect of the winds increasing in intensity – and the possibility of thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon – the final round will now be played off the first and tenth tees at 07.00 with the leaders teeing off at 08.44 in order to avoid disruption to a potentially thrilling climax.

Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, the most recent major champion in women’s golf, was forced to retire after 13 holes due to a knee injury.

Malaysia’s Kelly Tan and Michelle Koh carded identical 76s to lie in 51st and 52nd places respectively.

For the full scores, click here.

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