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Minjee Lee and Nanna Koerstz Madsen fight for lead at Hugel-Air Premia L.A. Open

HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open - Round Three
Minjee Lee and Nanna Koerstz Madsen hug after the completion of the third round at Wilshire Country Club.
(Yong Teck Lim / Getty Images)

Today’s final pairing in the slugfest known as the Hugel-Air Premia L.A. Open at Wilshire Country Club will feature the same two free swingers who went head to head Saturday.

Each bounced back from mistakes of their own doing and countered virtually any move from the opponent while playing in the final group of the third round.

Minjee Lee, a 22-year-old four-time winner on the LPGA Tour from Australia, and Nanna Koerstz Madsen, a 24-year-old non-winner from Denmark in her second year on tour, set themselves apart from a very crowded leaderboard late Saturday.

Lee offset a triple bogey on the third hole with seven birdies to shoot a four-under-par 67 and stands at 11-under 202, a stroke ahead of Madsen, who birdied three of the last four holes to match Lee’s 67.

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Former world No. 1 Inbee Park, a Hall of Famer with seven major championships among her 19 victories, is alone in third at seven under after shooting a 68 that was marred by a hacker’s shot on No. 17 that wound up in the creek 50 yards short of the green.

“I can’t complain about one bad shot,” she said. “But that was a really bad shot.”

Morgan Pressel (70) and world No. 1 Jin Young Ko (67) are tied for fourth at six under. Megan Khang, whose tournament-record 64 was the best round of the day, former USC standout Annie Park (66), Sei Young Kim (68) and Danielle Kang (70) are tied for sixth at five under.

Lee, who began the round with a one-shot lead over Koerstz Madsen, birdied the first two holes, and Koerstz Madsen stayed right with her. But on No. 3, Lee dropped from the lead.

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No. 3 is a 350-yard dogleg right with a fairway sloping left to right that is not quite as precipitous as a double-diamond ski slope. It bends to the right around a large eucalyptus that protects a green already well fortified on three sides by the creek that runs throughout this course. That tree caught her second shot left her another 50 yards to the green. Her pitch was long, her chip back was poor and suddenly her scorecard had a seven on it.

Her method with dealing with adversity was simple:

“You know, after that I wasn’t super nervous or anything,” she said. “I just sort of tried to believe in myself and just go out there and make as many birdies as I can…. Yeah, just did that.”

She added five more birdies without a bogey.

Koerstz Madsen’s technique for regrouping was a bit different.

She bogeyed the ninth hole, then three-putted No. 11 for another bogey. She went to her go-to method to forget about it and control the temper that has emerged in the past.

Some golfers keep refreshments and energy bars in their bags. She keeps lemons.

“I have this thing where if I get too nervous or mad I can take a lemon and bite on the lemon,” she said. “It’s like taking your senses away from whatever you’re on and thinking about this lemon, which is really disgusting and not very nice.”

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Whatever works. She settled down after that with three consecutive pars, then birdies at Nos. 15, 16 and 17 before parring the final hole.

Now she’ll be in the final group Sunday for the first time in her LPGA career.

It appeared early that Saturday was a day to go low, with overcast skies, a mild breeze and temperature in the 60s. Before the lead group even teed off, a dozen players had already completed their third round with scores below par, and eight of those, led by Khang, were under 70.

Khang, a 21-year-old in her third year on tour, leapfrogged over much of the field after starting the day at two over par. She was the first player from those teeing off in the early morning to have an impact on the leaderboard, jumping from a tie for 48th to the eventual tie for sixth. She had played 23 holes before Saturday without a birdie and made three in her first four holes.

“I definitely told myself that there are a lot of birdies out there since I left the second round wide open for them,” she said.

Khang’s move up the leaderboard had the added benefit of earning her a later tee time for Sunday.

“I’m going to the movies tonight,” she said. “I wanted to play well today so I can get a later tee time tomorrow so I wouldn’t have to wake up at 6 after being out until midnight.

“Worked out perfectly.”

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