WOMEN’S WRAP: Cho profits as Australians battle

Ayean Cho comes from the great golfing factory of South Korea and she fits the prototype.

She’s 19 and even though she does not play on the LPGA Tour yet, her world ranking rose nearly 200 places last year, to a current high of No. 34. She won twice on the Korean LPGA Tour and was rookie of the year on that tour.

And she’s leading the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach by a shot, meaning that she is within sight of a victory that will give her a two-year exemption on the LPGA Tour.

The winds – 60km/h pretty much all day – shredded the women’s field. The average score soared to 75.5, three-over par. But Cho was virtually impervious to it. Starting out the day at 10-under par she quickly birdied the second and third to get into contention, then made three more birdies including the 18th to post a two-under par 70.

That was enough to get her to the top, overtaking Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom, who struggled to a two-over par 74. Cho is a shot ahead at 12-under par, but Sagstrom is poised at 11-under, just a shot back. They will be joined in the last group on Sunday by Canada’s Alena Sharp, whose  70 was enough to vault her into contention.

The Australians are well back. Top-ranked Minjee Lee made two early birdies to hold a share of the lead, but a meltdown at the par-four eighth hole unravelled her. Twice, she hit the lip of the fairway bunker that guards the corner on the left-to-right dogleg hole, and ultimately, she had to hole a putt from almost two metres for a six.

Lee ended up posting a 74 that leaves here at seven-under, five shots from the lead. It’s do-able, but difficult, and perhaps she needs to see more wind on Sunday.

Playing in the final group young Gold Coast professional Robyn Choi held firm for a while but leaked too many shots and ended up shooting 77 to finish five-under overall. At 21, at least she gets the chance to play on Sunday.

Outside of former world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, who vaulted up the field with a four-under par 68 that puts her back in the mix, Cho was the best player in the field. She could only remember one day – at the Espirito Santo Trophy in Ireland a couple of years ago – when it was so windy, but she hung tough. “It was very windy so my shots were not  my shots were not as good as yesterday,’’ she said, through an interpreter.

Sagstrom could have unravelled – she had three bogeys and a double bogey in the first eight holes – but she did not. The Swede smiled her way all the way around; it was one of those days when you had to, and ultimately, 74 was a good scorer.  “I actually have figured it out, so I think smiling is my coping mechanism instead of me getting angry or frustrated,” she said. “At one point I was like, what am I going to do?  I'm just going to laugh about it because it was just so difficult, especially making the turn.”