Ko opened with a 63 when conditions were prime for scoring. When temperatures dipped on Saturday and the wind was steady she was asked to survive the day.

She showed she can do that, too.

Her even-par 72 – one birdie, one bogey, 16 pars – in the third round left her at 11-under 205.

Next best at the LPGA Tour's first full-field event of the year was her playing partner and good friend Danielle Kang (74).

Celine Boutier of France had the low round on Saturday of 69 to be just three shots adrift of Ko.

RIGHT: Last week's winner Danielle Kang sits in second place behind Kiwi Lydia Ko. PHOTO: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images.

U.S. Women's Open champion Yuka Saso, who birdied the 18th hole to shoot 72, and England's Charley Hull (71) are tied for fourth at seven-under-par.

The Australian contingent in Florida struggled in the tough conditions on Saturday, with World Golf Hall of Fame member Karrie Webb signing for a 75 to drop back to two-over while Su Oh had eight bogeys in a round 78 to be one shot ahead of the woman whose eponymous cup she won earlier this month.

Only four players broke par on Saturday, with only Boutier in the 60s.

Former World No.1 Ko is seeking her 17th LPGA Tour title, having won her first when she was only 15.

"It's great to be back in contention," the rejuvenated World No.3, who won last year for the first time since 2018, said.

"I think when you keep putting yourself there, you feel like at one point it's going to fall." - Lydia Ko.

"I played really solid and I played really consistently, especially in the back half of my season last year.

"I think when you keep putting yourself there, you feel like at one point it's going to fall."

Kang, won the season-opening Tournament of Champions last week, battled hard to keep her round together and remain within striking distance of Ko.

"Today was rough. I checked out a little bit for the back nine," Kang said.

"I did everything I can to stay in contention and gave myself a chance tomorrow."

Boutier kept her head down and plugged along, and never even realised she'd gone bogey-free until after she had signed her card.