Red-hot Pornanong leads Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia

Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum talking to his caddie and brother during the third round of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia at KLGCC on Saturday. She leads the field by three strokes with one round remaining. - AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: She’s got a winsome smile. Now all she needs is to win it!

Thailand’s No. 1 golfer Pornanong Phatlum is on the brink of making history after carding a sublime six-under 65 on Saturday for a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.

The 24-year-old was simply outstanding at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club – firing eight birdies against two bogeys for a 14-under 199 total and stay on course to being the first Thai to win on the LPGA Tour.

Japan’s Ayako Uehara stayed closest to the red-hot Thai with a two-under 69 for a three-day total of 11-under 202.

Four players – South Korea’s overnight leader Ryu So-yeon (72) and Chella Choi (68), China’s Feng Shanshan (69) and New Zealand’s world No. 3 Lydia Ko (70) – are four strokes behind the leader in joint third.

Pornanong, who teed off from the first hole, converted six birdies – including a brilliant 25-footer on the eighth – on the front nine before making a seventh on the 10th.

Despite dropping two shots – on the 12th and 16th – she calmed her nerves with the eighth of her birdies on the 17th to ensure a comfortable three-stroke advantage ahead of Uehara.

“The front nine was amazing, it’s my first time ever shooting as low as 29 for the first nine!” said Pornanong, who hails from Chaiyaphum, a town located in the north-east of Thailand.

“The back nine, I started to feel little bit nervous. But, thankfully, my brother who caddies for me, helped me to relax.

“He kept telling me to keep calm and just concentrate on my own game, and go make some birdies.”

Asked how she would feel if she became the first Thai winner on the LPGA Tour, the world No. 32 said: “I’ll be very proud if I can achieve that. I have been trying hard to get a win on the LPGA Tour ... it’s my goal to win at least one tournament this year.

“It would be great if I can win it here in Kuala Lumpur ... playing here is just like playing at home.”

Pornanong, who is in her fifth year on the LPGA Tour, has one win – the HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup in 2012 – to her name. Unfortunately, that was an unofficial tournament.

Overnight leader So-yeon suffered a frustrating day. After finding four birdies on the seventh, eighth, 10th and 12th, So-yeon was back on top of the leaderboard on 15-under.

But she bogeyed the subsequent hole, before dropping four more shots – with a back-to-back double bogey on the 17th and 18th.

“My game wasn’t really bad, just that I had a really bad finish on the last two holes,” the world No. 7 lamented.

“It was kind of a very unlucky moment ... but I still have one more round tomorrow (today).”

Pornanong was not the only Thai to thrive in the third round. Compatriot Ariya Jutanugarn also made a big leap to seventh from 35th after carding the day’s lowest round of seven-under 64 to be placed on nine-under 204 total with South Korean duo Lee Il-hee and Choi Na-yeon.

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