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Ko taking lead into final round; Uehara fires 68

AP, Kyodo

Ko Jin-young turned a four-stroke deficit into a five-stroke lead in only 10 holes Saturday at the ANA Inspiration. She nearly gave it all back, setting up a final-round shootout in the first major championship of the golf season.

Ko ended up with a one-shot advantage over second-round leader In-Kyung Kim, shooting a 4-under 68 in unexpected calm conditions at tree-lined Mission Hills to reach 8-under 208.

“If a little bit miss shot, It’s OK,” Ko said. “I’m not robot. I’m human. Don’t think about bad things. Just looking for good things.”

Kim birdied the par-5 18th for a 73. She gave herself a chance to win the event seven years after missing a 14-inch putt on the final hole of regulation and losing to Sun Young Yoo on the first hole of a playoff.

“To be honest, it’s good to have three-shot lead going into the tournament today because I quite lost it,” Kim said. “I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s just expectations that I didn’t know I could live up to, maybe.”

Ayako Uehara made a third-round surge to climb within seven strokes of the leader after a 4-under 68.

Uehara shot four birdies in a bogey-free round and sits at 1-under in a tie for 15th place.

“This course is really difficult, so finishing without a bogey is pretty good,” said Uehara, who started the day at 3-over and in a tie for 48th after shooting 75 and 72 in the first two rounds.

“All I can do is keep looking up and lower my score. It was a good round to lead into the final day.”

The 35-year-old finished eighth at last year’s ANA Inspiration, her best result at a major to date.

Second-round leader Kim trails Ko by a shot at 7-under.

Among other Japanese, Sakura Yokomine shot a 69 and is tied for 37th at 2-over. Nasa Hataoka, who won her third LPGA title at last week’s Kia Classic, fell to 2-over with a 73.

“Things are going alright so I wanted to hold out,” the 20-year-old Hataoka said. “I’m not playing especially bad or anything. I think I just need to make a little adjustment.”

Lee Mi-hyang and Danielle Kang were 5 under. Lee had a hole-in-one on 17 and birdied 18 in a 68.

“Was good comeback,” Lee said. “Feels like roller-coaster.”

Kang shot 70.

“It’s the toughest it’s ever played in my opinion,” Kang said. “I’ve been here I think eight years now. The rough is incredibly long. Greens are firm and slick. It’s tough.”

The 23-year-old Ko won the Founders Cup two weeks ago in Phoenix for her third LPGA Tour title and leads the money list. She tied for second last week in Carlsbad for her fourth top-three finish in five events this year.

Ko spent five weeks in the offseason practicing in the area.

“I had couple rounds on this course with my coach,” Ko said. “I practice hard in the Palm Springs in January. About my swing, fix a little bit, and then putting or short game, training, everything. . . . But in January, was really difficult weather and different weather now. Was really cold and then huge wind.”