KUALA LUMPUR – Fuelled by the local Malaysian food, Rose Zhang put herself in prime position to win her second LPGA Tour title in her rookie year after she fired a seven-under 65 on Saturday for a one-stroke lead at the Maybank Championship.

The American sits on 18-under 198 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club course, just ahead of Thais Atthaya Thitikul, who carded a stunning bogey-free 62, and Jasmine Suwannapura (67). South Korean Kim Sei-young matched Zhang’s 65 and was in fourth on 201.

Zhang, 20, won the Mizuho Americas Open in June as a non-member and accepted immediate LPGA membership. She has managed another three top-10 finishes – all at the Majors – and is unsurprisingly keen to claim another trophy.

She said: “I love the food. I’ve been having nasi lemak basically every night and chicken rice. It’s my first time in Malaysia, so it’s really been a fun experience.”

She also shot a 65 on Thursday’s opening round, which is the best score she has managed in her fledging career.

She was also pleased with her response to a late bogey on Saturday, rolling in a birdie on the par-five 18th to claim the outright lead at the US$3 million (S$4.1 million) event, the first LPGA tournament in Malaysia since the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia ran from 2010-17.

Zhang said: “The most important thing out here is just making sure you’re making less mistakes. On No. 14 made a little whoopsie, but I really came back and fought back and stayed composed, and that’s the biggest thing, just being able to stay in the moment.”

Former world No. 1 Atthaya, whose two career LPGA titles came in 2022, knows how hard it is to win on this circuit. She said: “(A victory) would mean the world to me and all my team. If it’s happen it would be happy, but if it’s not, I still happy with all the result or all the thing I have put it all in here in this week.”

Her compatriot Jasmine’s drought stretches back even further. Her last Tour triumph was at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in July 2019. She began with three straight birdies but could not maintain that momentum, closing with five consecutive pars while her competitors were racking up birdies.

Jasmine, who led after the first two rounds here, said: “Even though I didn’t hit it too close, there were still chances to make birdie, so don’t really give up on it (for Sunday).”

Meanwhile, the LPGA will stage a new US$3.5 million (S$4.8 million) event starting next year at TPC Boston, with the FM Global Championship offering the largest women’s purse outside the five Majors and season-ending Tour Championship.

The tournament will be played in 2024 from Aug 29-Sept 1, two weeks before the Solheim Cup in suburban Washington, with a field of 144 under a five-year agreement. TPC Boston, which opened in 2002, has hosted 17 PGA Tour events but this will mark the first women’s professional competition at the course. AFP

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