Lydia Ko is sitting third late in the second round of the Kingsmill Championship on the LPGA Tour, as she fights to maintain her world No 1 ranking.
The Kiwi posted a second successive four-under 67 in Virginia to move to eight-under through two rounds, good for outright third and two shots back of the leader, American Lexi Thompson, who is a stroke ahead of compatriot Gerina Piller. American Brittany Lincicome and South Korea’s In Gee Chun are a shot behind Ko on seven under.
The two players who are breathing down Ko’s neck for the No 1 ranking, So Yeon Ryu and Ariya Jutanugarn, are back in the pack; Ryu was at four-under par after 13 and Jutanugarn two-under through 12.
Ko was quick out of the gates on Saturday (NZT), notching a birdie at her first hole, the par-four 10th. A run of pars followed before she added three further birdies on the back nine, on both of the par-fives and the par-four fourth.
After a mixed start to the 2017 season, Ko went into the event under real threat of losing the No 1 ranking after 82 weeks at the top.
Ryu can claim the mantle simply by recording a higher finish than Ko, with Jutanugarn going to the top if she picks up a significantly better result than the leading pair.
Ko is enduring the longest winless streak of her career, having gone 18 tournaments since her last victory in July last year.
While the Kiwi hasn’t hit the high standards of previous years, with at least three wins in each of her three full seasons on tour, she has had five top 10s and a runner-up finish last month in Hawaii.
She said afterwards she was happy with another solid sub-par round.
“It was a pretty steady round,” she told media at the course. “The front nine I gave myself a lot of looks for birdies and a lot of them slipped by. But I feel like I’m putting good strokes on it, and that’s all I can do.
“I got a few lucky bounces. The birdie on my first hole, the 10th, I got a really good kick and it ended up being a tap-in birdie. It’s always nice when the luck is there and you’re able to give yourself many looks for birdies. Playing well in the real front nine was good to give me confidence going into the weekend.”
Overall, Ko felt good about the direction in which her game is heading.
“I think I was hitting it a little bit better, and I hit a few more greens in regulation and that automatically gives you more birdie opportunities,” she added.
“It’s been a steady first two days. I like where I am. I wish I could be a little bit better but you can say that with any round. There’s a lot of golf to be played, but all I’ve got to do is focus on my game and be excited for the weekend.”
And in terms of her form struggles, she felt like that early-season slump might be behind her.
“I was struggling with my long game, and even if I putt good, if the long game is not there, there’s a limit to how low you can go. I was able to shoot low in the second round at the CME and that was when everything kind of clicked.
“Two years ago I was struggling a little in the middle of my season, then last year I struggled towards the end of the season, and this year it seems like it was more towards the first few tournaments.
“Hopefully that has gone away and having my good finish in Hawaii definitely builds confidence especially with all the changes. It takes time to get used to but I feel like everything is going in the right direction. So all I’ve got to do is be confident, trust my game and have fun on the golf course.”