On the hunt for her first LPGA Tour victory, Gerina Piller backed up her season-best round Thursday with another solid one Friday at the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I, and her 11-under par total through two rounds sees her leading by one over a foursome of golfers.
Piller fired a 3-under-par 68 Friday at Highland Meadows Golf Club. She made one bogey on the back nine (her front) before bogeying the par-4 2nd. She ran off a string of three-straight birdies after that to close out her day.
She said she was ‘very pleased’ with the ability to back up her season-best round Thursday with another solid one Friday.
“I feel like I was pretty steady. I kind of had a par streak going there. But I gave myself chances for birdie, and at that point, you've just got to be patient, and there's some birdie holes out there. I stayed patient, not one on my front nine and then reeled off three in a row on the back. It is difficult, but if you can just kind of plug along and hit fairways and greens and keep it simple, that's what I feel,” said Piller. “It’s tough to follow up an 8-under. The conditions were great out there. The course is in great shape. I got off to a slow start, just made some pars, but I was giving myself chances, and that's kind of all you can ask for.”
This will be Piller’s first time holding a 36-hole lead on the LPGA Tour, but she said she feels comfortable at Highland Meadows, calling the course one that fits with her style of play.
“I felt like I played great. You know, I missed some birdie opportunities, but I made some longer putts today. Ball-striking feels great. Putting feels great. It was just a matter of staying patient and just letting the results come,” she explained.
A shot back of Piller includes In-Kyung Kim, Peiyun Chien, LPGA Tour rookie Nelly Korda, and winner already this year Lexi Thompson.
Thompson, who already has seven top-10 finishes in 2017 including a victory, fired a 6-under-par 65 Friday, which included eight birdies. She admitted she had a slow start, but said her caddie helped her get through the early rough patch.
“I was actually 1-over through three, I believe. My caddie helped me out a lot. He helped me out just being positive and trying to stick with my plan out here, which is a little different than usual,” she explained. “I'm actually hitting a little baby cut around the golf course. I never thought I would say those words. But I'm just sticking to it, and I hit some great iron shots, which helped.”
Thompson has had a wild 2017 – two of her top 10s came via playoff losses, and her mother was just recently diagnosed with cancer – but says she feels good heading into another very busy run on the LPGA Tour, which includes two majors and the Solheim Cup.
“It's definitely been a bit of an up-and-down year, but I've been playing some great golf. I feel like the emotional stuff has definitely put a toll on me, but a lot better now knowing my mom is good and healthy, so that's been helping out a lot,” said Thompson. “I’ve just been trying to work on my game a lot. Just trying to keep positive, and I know my good golf is there, just got to stay patient with it going into the rest of the majors and the rest of the year.”
Korda, who game firing out of the gate in her rookie season with a runner-up at the first event of the year, is looking for her best finish since then. She’s in a prime position to do just that after rounds of 68-64 has her just one shot back of the lead.
“Whenever you're in contention, that's the goal,” said Korda. “Everyone goes into every tournament wanting to win. To be on top of the leaderboard feels really good, and I still have 36 more holes, so I'm definitely excited for it.”
Rookie Aditi Ashok followed up her solid Thursday with another good round Friday and sits alone in sixth, just two shots back of the lead held by Piller.
“I'm feeling good. I think I like the golf course because it sort of suits my game,” said Ashok. “Greens are pretty small, and you have to hit good approaches, but every time you're on the green, you kind of have a makeable birdie putt, and putting is my strength, so I think that's been working for me.”
A foursome of golfers also sits at 8-under par including Brittany Lincicome, Chella Choi, Sung Hyun Park, and veteran Laura Diaz.
Diaz, 42, is looking for her best finish of the season. This is only her third LPGA event of 2017, but after a bogey-free 68 Friday, she’s sniffing at the top of the leaderboard. After suffering a near career-ending injury in 2015, she’s just happy to be playing again.
“2015 was a disaster, to put it mildly, and I walked away. Didn't know what I was going to do, and then I broke my leg, so I thought that was God's way of saying take some time off. So now I'm in a little bit different of a place and just going out and trying to play the best golf I can,” she explained. The leaderboard is not in my eyesight at all, not that it's not in everybody who's pinging me on my phone, but it's great to be able to just go out and shoot 67-67. I haven't done that in a long time, so that feels good. I'm just going to focus on that.”
Other notable results from Friday include Lydia Ko firing a 3-under-par 68 to make the cut by one. Toledo, Ohio’s own Stacy Lewis will also be around on the weekend, as she sits 2-under. Brooke Henderson missed just her second cut of the season (she finished 4-over through two rounds), while both Jenny Shin and Christina Kim withdrew prior to the second round.