Lexi Thompson was frustrated with her putter for much of the day, but not on the 18th hole.
The 21-year-old Thompson sank a 10-foot eagle putt on the last hole to cap a 3-under-par 69 and take a one-stroke lead over three players to the final round of the ANA Inspiration, first major of the year, at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who shot 69, Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who posted a 67, and In Gee Chun of South Korea, who had a 69, were tied for second.
Thompson, who won the tournament two years ago, birdied the 15th and 16th holes and played the last four holes in 4-under for a total of 10-under 206 on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.
“I was a little frustrated on the greens for the first 10 holes,” said Thompson, who is No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. “Putting is just confidence and once I made a couple on the back nine it changed things.
“Since the beginning of the season, this is the best I’ve hit the ball. I’m just going to play my game and have a positive attitude going into tomorrow.”
Ko and Jutanugarn, who both played bogey-free in the third round, missed make-able birdie putts on the last hole that would have tied them for the lead.
Chun, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, had birdies on the first three holes and two of the last four, including No. 18.
“I’ve struggled with my speed on the greens the last couple days,” said Ko, who claimed her first major title last year in the Evian Championship in France. “I’ve left several short, right on line, and have been telling myself to hit the ball to the hole.
“But I struck the ball much better today and stayed out of the rough for the most part. It’s a lot easier to hit off the fairway, especially on a course like this.”
Said Jutanugarn: “That was just a misread on No. 18. I thought it was outside right and it was inside right.
“I’m getting more confident through the week. I didn’t play so good the last couple weeks. Tomorrow is going to be so much fun. I’m going to have fun and enjoy it.”
Charley Hull of England recorded a 69 and was two strokes back in a tie for fifth with Ai Miyazato of Japan, the first-round co-leader, who wound up at 71.
The 18-year-old Hull finished with a flourish, making birdies on the last four holes after having only one in the first 14 holes.
“I didn’t drive the ball so well today, but I thought I hit my irons well and made some putts,” said Hull, whose only pro victory came in the 2014 Lalla Mereym Cup on the Ladies European Tour. “I had some more opportunities, but missed one at 10, then made those on the back nine coming home.
“I love this golf course and I’m in good position to come from behind going to the final round. I feel like my game is pretty solid. I’m going to hit some balls have some dinner and make it an early night.”
Michelle Wie totaled 70 and was three shots behind in a tie for seventh with Suzann Pettersen (71) of Norway, Lee-Anne Pace (71) of South Africa, Caroline Masson (68) of Germany and Sung-Hyun Park (71) of South Korea.
Gerina Piller carded a 70 and was another shot down in a tie for 12th with Catriona Matthew (70) of Scotland, Pernilla Lindberg (66) of Sweden and Hyo-Joo Kim (69) of South Korea.
Defending champion Brittany Lincicome, who also won the tournament in 2009, shot 71 and was in a tie for 20th that included second-ranked Inbee Park of South Korea, who totaled 69, while fourth-ranked Stacy Lewis was tied for 14th following a 70.