Rose Zhang one clear heading into Maybank Championship finale

KUALA LUMPUR: American rookie Rose Zhang moved a step closer to her second LPGA Tour title in just her 12th appearance after taking a one-shot lead in the third round of the Maybank Championship on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Rose, who turned professional in May, birdied the final hole at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club to edge ahead of the chasing pack, including Thai duo Atthaya Thitikul and overnight leader Jasmine Suwannapura.

Starting the day one shot behind Jasmine, Rose was on fire, birdieing six of her first 10 holes. However, a bogey on the 14th slowed her momentum.

Undeterred, she reclaimed the lost stroke on the 15th and finished with a flourish on the 18th, posting a 54-hole score of 18-under 198.

This placed her one shot ahead of Atthaya, who rocketed up the leaderboard with a blistering 62, and Jasmine, who carded a 67, keeping herself in contention for the third consecutive day.

"I feel really great. I just feel like having the opportunity to enter the final round with a little bit of a lead is really great," said Rose, who grabbed attention in June by winning the Americas Open on her maiden pro start.

"I think that going forward it's just making sure I'm having fun, having that game plan, and enjoying every simple moment."

Rose admitted that the intense battle she had with her playing partner, Jasmine, played a pivotal role in bringing out her best.

"It was incredible. I feel like I'm learning so much from all the professionals out here on tour. They're world-class, and I never expected anything less from Jasmine.

"I feel like I'm still learning, so there is just much to improve on, and I'm really happy that I'm able to compete alongside the best in the world," Rose added.

Atthaya delivered one of her best performances of the season, carding 10 birdies in a flawless round, positioning herself for a shot at her third LPGA Tour title.

Malaysia might hold a special charm for the 20-year-old. She clinched two gold medals at the 2017 Sea Games in Kuala Lumpur at the Mines Resort and Golf Club.

Atthaya said she was enjoying every single moment so far.

"This is my first professional tournament in Malaysia, and just my second time in Malaysia," said Atthaya, who was ranked No. 1 for two weeks in October last year.

Despite losing her lead for the first time this week, Jasmine was pleased with how she held firm on the course.

"I think because I play my game, I just can't control what other people do, so it's just me, hitting my best shot, and enjoying the game," said Jasmine.

National No. 1 Natasha Andrea Oon remained Malaysia's best-placed golfer after salvaging a 73.

Starting from the 10th tee, Natasha endured a difficult start, bogeying the 18th hole before a double bogey followed on the par-three fourth.

But she recovered well to pick up two straight birdies on the fifth and sixth to end the day in tied 52nd on 214.

"I'm glad to get two back. It could have been a lot worse. It could've been way better," said Natasha.

"Just kind of learning every day how to go through these things, and obviously this course is playing in a scorable way, and people are climbing up the ladder. It was moving day, so it's a little disappointing, but it's okay. I'll be okay."

Leading third round scores:

198: Rose Zhang (US) 65-68-65;

199: Atthaya Thitikul (Tha) 66-71-62, Jasmine Suwannapura (Tha) 63-69-67;

201: Kim Sei Young (Kor) 69-67-65;

202: Nasa Hataoka (Jpn) 69-69-64, Megan Khang (US) 67-70-65, Chien Pei Yun (Tai) 65-69-68;

203: Gemma Dryburgh (Sco) 67-69-67, Celine Boutier (Fra) 70-64-69;

204: Lydia Ko (NZL) 68-71-65.


214: Natasha Andrea Oon 70-71-73;

215: Jeneath Wong (am) 72-71-72;

216: Ashley Lau 72-71-73;

221: Kelly Tan 71-76-74;

223: Ng Jing Xuen (am) 74-78-71;

226: Alyaa Abdulghany 74-72-80.

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