LOS ANGELES: Thai rookie Atthaya Thitikul fired an eagle and eight birdies in a 10-under par 61 on Saturday to seize the lead in the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.
The 19-year-old chasing a second LPGA victory, had a 13-under par total of 128 and a one-stroke lead over Japan’s Yuka Saso, who carded a 6-under par 65 at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
Former amateur No. 1 Lilia Vu carded her second straight 65 for solo third on 130 heading into the final round of the 54-hole event.
Atthaya teed off on 10 and picked up three strokes in her first nine holes.
After birdies at the first, third and fifth she picked up four shots in her last three holes.
She eagled the seventh, where her four-iron approach from 210 yards out left her two feet from the pin, and birdied the eighth and ninth.
“I think my mind was blank and just nothing there,” she said of her mindset as she picked up steam coming in. “Just hit a shot, just tap it in, putt it in, just like totally blank.”
She said she plays her best golf when she keeps her mind clear and her plan is to “keep that blank mind for tomorrow.”
The 19-year-old has plenty of experience to draw on come Sunday.
Her 11 international victories include a win in the Ladies European Thailand Championship as a 14-year-old amateur in 2017.
Since winning her first LPGA title in March she has top-10 finishes in the Women’s PGA Championship, the Evian Championship and the Women’s British Open.
“I think (I’ll) just do my best out there and I’m trying to enjoy every moment of it,” she said. “You’re not going to be in the same moment anymore so just keep trying my best.”
Saso, who was among six players sharing the overnight lead, had six birdies without a bogey and she’s hoping she can add a victory to what has been an otherwise average season.
Last year she made her first LPGA title a major when she won the US Women’s Open, but she had her last top-10 finish in January.
Nine players shared fourth place, four shots off the lead. The group included overnight co-leaders Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lee5 Jeong-eun.
But South Korean Kim Sei-young, who was also among the first-round leaders, faded with a 1-under-par 70 that featured a triple-bogey at the par-four 14th.