Los Angeles (AFP) - Lexi Thompson conjured up a scintillating finish to open up a one-shot third-round lead in the ANA Inspiration on Saturday, setting up what promises to be a thrilling final round battle for the first major of the season.
The 21-year-old American star -- aiming to repeat her victory in the event in 2014 -- produced back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th to move within one shot of the lead at Rancho Mirage's Mission Hills Country Club.
But Thompson saved her best for last on the par-five 18th, reaching the green in two with a superlative shot from the fairway which left her with a 15-foot eagle putt which she duly drained.
That gave Thompson a three-under-par 69, putting her on 10-under 206 for the tournament, one clear of a pack of three players led by world number one Lydia Ko, Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn and South Korea's Chun In-Gee.
"To finish like that really turns around my confidence. I feel really good going into tomorrow," said Thompson, who battled through a shaky spell earlier in her round which saw her bogey the par-three eighth and the par-four 10th.
"This is probably the best I've hit it this season," added Thompson.
New Zealand prodigy Ko, meanwhile, hit a solid if unspectacular round comprising three birdies and 15 pars as she chases the second major of her career following last year's win at the Evian Championship.
The 18-year-old attributed her 69 to a more aggressive approach to her putting as well as her unerring accuracy off the tee.
"I felt like I struck the ball a lot better today and I hit a few more fairways," Ko said. "The less time you're spending in the rough the better."
- In contention -
Thailand's Ariya meanwhile fired a five-under-par 67 to remain firmly in contention on nine under.
The 20-year-old from Bangkok -- who made worldwide headlines in 2007 when she became the youngest ever player to qualify for an LPGA Tour event at the age of 11 -- carded five birdies and no bogeys in a flawless third round.
Chun, who began the day one off the pace, appeared to be determined to take sole possession of the leaderboard after making a flying start with birdies on her first three holes to move to nine-under.
But the 21-year-old's momentum stalled over the remaining holes of the front nine, with bogey fives on the par-four fourth and sixth holes, followed by a further bogey on the par-three eighth which cancelled out her superb start.
Chun however settled back into her rhythm over the back nine, with birdies on the 11th, 15th and 18th helping her to a third straight 69.
Another youngster, 20-year-old English talent Charley Hull, was two shots off the lead after posting a three-under-par 69 for the second consecutive round following Thursday's opening 70.
Hull looked to be slipping off the pace after recording bogeys at the eighth and 10th holes to leave her two-over for the day.
But she hit back with a birdie on the 11th before reeling off birdies on the final four holes to put herself firmly into contention.
Hull, who posted her best performance at a major when she tied for seventh place at the ANA Inspiration in 2014, is tied for fifth on eight-under along with Japan's former world number one Ai Miyazato, the overnight co-leader who carded a one-under-par 71.