Golf: Kiwi Lydia Ko poised for season-opening victory, with two-shot lead at LPGA Tournament of Champions

Kiwi Lydia Ko seems poised for her first LPGA victory in more than 12 months, leading the field into the final round at the Tournament of Champions at Orlando, Florida.

Tied atop the leaderboard after the second day, Ko carded a four-under 68 on the third round to grab a two-shot buffer over her nearest challenger, American Alex Pano.

Her par four on the 18th was her 37th consecutive hole without bogey, as she produced another blemish-free round that featured birdies on the eighth, ninth, 11th and 14th at her home course of Nona Beach.

Lydia Ko celebrates her lead at the Tournament of Champions.
Lydia Ko celebrates her lead at the Tournament of Champions. Photo credit: Getty Images

The rest of the field has some ground to make up on the runaway leader, with third-placed American Ally Ewing another two shots back. Scot Gemma Dryburgh, Mexican Gaby Lopez and Japanese Ayaka Furue are tied for fourth, five strokes behind Ko.

Furue led after the opening round and shared honours with Ko after two, but fell away with a one-over 73, including two bogeys.

"There have been some situations where, normally, I would think about what I need to do for the next shot or what are the consequences if I don't execute the shot," said Ko. "Here, I've just gone up to a shot and said, 'I think this is a three-wood or a five-wood'.

"Even though you do know the golf course well, I think I was standing on 16 today, thinking I had zero idea which way this putt's going to break. People think there is an advantage and I'm sure there is to some parts, but you still have to hit good shots.

"At the end of the day, the person who plays the best golf is going to win. I'm hoping I can do that, I've put myself in a good position and I'm going to enjoy being back in contention again for the first time in a while."

After winning the LPGA Championship and returning to the world No.1 ranking in 2022, Ko, 26, fell away last year, finishing no higher than third and missing four cuts, as she struggled to retain her tour card.

She salvaged her campaign at the Grant Thornton Invitational, where she paired with Aussie Jason Day for victory in the non-tour mixed team format.

"I think I have to thank Jason," said Ko. "At the start of the week at Grant Thornton, I wasn't really sure how I was going to play.

"He had belief in me, when I was so sorry for him that he was partnered with me. We had such a great week and to win the last tournament, when I didn't have the season I would have wanted, it just gave me good momentum and put me in a better place to say, 'You can turn things around really quick'.

"I'm just going to enjoy it and I'm sure there will be a lot of nerves. Maybe I'll wake up a few more times overnight, but that's part of it."