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Inbee Park takes two-shot lead into final round at Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO — Inbee Park kept her composure in strong wind Friday and made two late birdies to regain the lead, posting a 1-under 70 for a two-shot lead going into the final round of the women's golf at Olympic Golf Course.

Just as difficult as the 30 mph gusts was seeing the name of Lydia Ko right behind her.

Ko, the No. 1 player in women's golf, made the first hole-in-one of her career as she raced into contention. The 19-year-old Kiwi made all pars on the back nine when the wind arrived and shot 65. She started the day seven shots behind and now has a solid chance at gold.

"Some holes, when you are making par, you feel like you're making birdies," Ko said. "That's what the situation and conditions were like out there. I think I've done a good job of putting myself in there and still having the chance to be standing on that podium."

Gerina Piller, the American who narrowly qualified for the Olympics in her final event, shot a 68 and was in the final group, two shots behind. Piller has never won on the LPGA Tour, though there is something about playing for her country that brings out her best golf. Piller's signature moment was making the winning putt for the United States in the Solheim Cup last year in Germany.

Shanshan Feng of China shot 68 and was three shots back. Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., shot a 4-over 75 to fall into a tie for eighth, while Hamilton's Alena Sharp went 3-over 75 and is tied for 34th.

Park, however, is still the player to beat.

The 28-year-old South Korean finally got her putter going, and she's among the best in women's golf on the greens. Her struggles were with the longer clubs, especially as the wind became fierce. Park tried to play short on the par-4 12th into the wind and hit into the sandy native area. On the par-3 14th, her hybrid went well over the green into more trouble, and she lost her lead.

Park bounced back with two birdies, a pitch to tap-in range on the short 16th and a 20-foot birdie on the 17th to build a cushion. But on the par-5 closing hole, her tee shot found a bunker and it took three more shots to reach the green. She made one last bogey and was at 11-under 202.

"I feel I hung in there, and I'm very happy I have a chance tomorrow," Park said. "It was hard to judge the distance, and on the green it was hard to concentrate because the ball was oscillating. I'm pretty exhausted."

Piller hit a bold pitch to 4 feet on the 16th to momentarily tie for the lead. She also went into the bunker on the 18th hole, and her next shot hit the top lip and only advance some 65 yards, leading to bogey.

They weren't the only players to struggle.

Charley Hull of Britain fell out of the chasing pack by missing three par putts inside 5 feet on the back nine. She shot 74 and was six shots behind. Brooke Henderson of Canada, the No. 2 player in women's golf, struggled even more. Henderson was still in the mix when she four-putted for double bogey on the 16th hole, taking three of those putts from 3 feet. She wound up with a 75 and was seven back.

Ko is right where she wants to be and is the most seasoned of those going after the gold medal, the first for women's golf since 1900. She is a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour this year, the best player in women's golf and finally got some confidence in her putter.

She used a 7-iron for her hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth hole — the second of the day after Lin Xiyu of China made an ace on that hole — as the highlight of a front nine in which she shot 29. Ko was stunned to hear the cheering when it dropped in.

"I made my first ever hole-in-one, so to do that at the Olympics, it doesn't get any better than that," Ko said. "But to put myself back into good position going into tomorrow I think was a job well done going forward."

Stacy Lewis went backward. The American, who began the day one shot behind, made a bogey on the easy par-5 fifth by hitting into the water, and closed out her round with a double bogey on the 18th when her third shot sailed long into the native area, and she chipped back over the green. She shot 76.

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