American Beth Allen birdied the 18th to edge local heroine Azahara Muñoz from Spain by one stroke heading into the final round of the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España Femenino, setting up a fascinating final round duel between two of the Ladies European Tour’s top players.
Allen made seven birdies and two bogeys in a sparkling third round of 67 to reach nine-under-par on a hot and breezy day at the gorgeous but demanding Aloha Golf Club in Marbella.
Muñoz, who led by one stroke at halfway, is in solo second after a bogey-free round of 70 but Italian Diana Luna and Englishwoman Sophie Walker are up to joint third on four-under after rounds of 69 and 71.
Last year’s ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters champion, Allen is fighting her way back to the top of the LET Order of Merit after losing her place to Shanshan Feng at last week’s Evian Championship.
The 34-year-old from San Diego began the third round a stroke behind Muñoz but was three back after the Spaniard birdied the first hole. Allen then hit back with three straight birdies from the ninth followed by three more at 14, 15 and 18. Allen caught Muñoz after 14 holes and both players birdied 15, but Allen made a putt of around five feet on the 18th green after Muñoz left hers short of the hole.
“It was a little bit of a slow start but I was happy with my back nine: 31 is always a nice score coming in,” said Allen, who is seeking her second LET title and was the runner-up to Melissa Reid in the 2011 event at nearby La Quinta. “I reached the 10th, which was handy and then two putts for birdie and I hit a really good shot in on the 11th and holed that and 12th is a tough hole so I was happy with a par. I particularly like this area and it does really remind me of southern California, where I’m from, so I love it.”
Muñoz, who is aiming to become the first Spanish winner of the title, said: “I gave myself quite a few chances and couldn’t make enough putts today. I just couldn’t get the speed of the greens and get my ball to the hole. I also made a few par putts that kept me going, five, six footers, so I’m only one back. I wish I was leading but one stroke’s nothing with 18 holes to go.”
Multiple LET champion Luna, who is five back, said that she was more worried about her injury than shooting a low score as she woke up with a frozen neck. “Sometimes they say beware of the sick golfer and I was less concerned with my scores than the other days and it worked out better,” she said.
Walker plotted her way around strategically and said afterwards: “It was up and down on the front nine with a few birdies and a few bogeys. I started with two birdies and then went back to level and birdied six, and then after that it was steady pars. I had to work a little bit harder today and get up and down a few more times.”
Gwladys Nocera of France and Nanna Koerstz Madsen will start the final round six strokes from the lead.
The final round will begin at 8.20am local time on Sunday, with play starting from two tees. The leading group featuring Allen, Muñoz and Luna will go out at 10am and there will be live television coverage and streaming on You Tube from midday until 3pm.