Austin Ernst seized a narrow one-shot lead on Saturday at the Drive On Championship after carding a 3-under 69 at Golden Ocala Golf Equestrian Club in Ocala, Fla. The nine-year LPGA veteran stands at 13-under 203 total after three rounds, one shot ahead of second-round co-leader Jennifer Kupcho.
Ernst got some momentum rolling on the front side with three birdies on Nos. 3, 5 and 9, and bobbled only once on the back with a bogey at 10. She made birdie at 11 then finished out with seven straight pars.
Saturday ended on a high note for 23-year-old Kupcho, who is still searching for her first LPGA win in her third season on tour. She combatted bogeys on Nos. 2 and 13 with pars at Nos. 7 and 8, then lingered three shots back before finishing with an eagle at 18 to post a 2-under 70.
Switzerland's Albane Valenzuela posted the low round of the day, a bogey-free 66 that featured a string of birdies on holes 3 through 5, and three more on the back at Nos. 12, 13 and 16. She stands tied for third place at 7-under with Thailand's Patty Tavatanakit (69) and Jenny Coleman (70).
Valenzuela, who made just five cuts in 10 starts last season, admitted she's finding her footing after a difficult rookie season.
"Definitely 2020 was kind of a struggle for me," said the 23-year-old. "Just transitioning I think from amateur golf to professional golf was tricky, and I fell victim of wanting to have more changes and kind of finding something different. Then I got a shoulder injury, got COVID, I got my appendix removed, so I really had a whole lot going on.
"I think I've just gone back to a very simple routine, gone back to the basics. My dad is my coach. He is here on the bag this week, and so we're just trying to have fun and go back to a very simple routine."
Danielle Kang posted a bogey-free 69 to stand tied in sixth place at 5-under with Spain's Carlota Ciganda. Ciganda started the day two shots back in third place but ballooned to a 75 that included four bogeys and a double. But she finished with an eagle at the par-5 finishing hole to salvage her day.
Nelly Korda, last week's winner at the Gainbridge LPGA, started Saturday three-shots back in fourth place but struggled on Saturday and carded a 4-over 76 and dropped to 3-under for the tournament and into a seven-way tie for 11th place that includes sister Jessica Korda (69).
--Field Level Media