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India’s Aditi Ashok has already established herself as one of the hottest players in golf this season. After opening the Ladies European Tour season with a victory at the Magical Kenya Ladies Open, Ashok finished third the next week in Morocco and now leads the Aramco Saudi Ladies International by two strokes.

Ashok’s head-turning back nine (her front nine) at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club included five birdies and an eagle. She followed that opening 29 with a 37 on a windy afternoon to shoot 66 and take the lead over World No. 1 Lydia Ko at 13 under par.

Ko followed her opening 64 with a 69 and sits tied with American Lilia Vu (66) at 11 under.

“I think it was just whenever I stepped to the ball, I just knew the ball was going in,” said Ashok of her clinic on the greens early one. “Just one of those days where everything works in your favor.”

A four-time winner on the LET, Ashok holed out for eagle from the bunker on the par-5 18th as she made the turn.

As for this impressive early-year form, Ashok said she worked on her driving quite a bit in the offseason, trying to increase her swing speed. She finished last season 99th on the LPGA’s CME points list. The top 100 keep their cards.

“Just went to the gym a lot,” she said. “I guess after last year, I traveled so much I lost some weight, so I was trying to gain that weight back.

“I’m nowhere near what I want to be. It’s a work in progress.”

Even in these conditions @aditigolf is still playing some incredible golf

— Aramco Saudi Ladies International (@AramcoLadiesInt) February 17, 2023

Ko, who is playing in her first event as a newlywed, said the wind picked up so much that couldn’t widen her stance enough to stabilize her putter.

“I think on 16 I ended up making the putt,” she said, “but hit it so far off the middle of the club face there is probably no like control in that area. It’s just one of those days that you know it’s going to be tough. It’s tough for everyone.”

The Saudi Ladies International, a Ladies European Tour-sanctioned event, features 15 of the top 30 players in the Rolex Rankings. The $5 million prize fund now matches that of the men’s event in Saudi. It’s the largest purse in women’s golf outside of the majors and the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship ($7 million).

The LET’s Saudi-backed events, which total six in 2023, remain controversial given the wide-ranging human rights abuses Saudi Arabia has been accused of, especially toward women.

Former No. 1 Atthaya Thitikul tumbled down the board after a second-round 72 while Lexi Thompson rebounded with a 68 to move into a share of 22nd.

Hannah Green, Linn Grant, Gabriela Ruffels, Anne van Dam, Jeongeun Lee6 and Meghan MacLaren were among those who missed the cut.