OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – A two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, a couple of Rolex Rookie of the Year winners, the No. 1 player in the world, a few major champs, the Sergio Garcia of the LPGA and the other Jutanugarn are among those who sit atop the leader board after two rounds of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Talk about entertainment.
Danielle Kang, who won the Women’s Amateur in 2010 and 2011, and Sei Young Kim, the 2015 Rolex Rookie of the Year, both blistered the North Course at Olympia Fields in 66 Friday to finish 36 holes at seven-under-par 135 for the midway lead.
At 136, after backing up a 65 with a 71, is Amy Yang, who has 15 top-10s in majors without a win and would like to do what Sergio did in this year’s Masters and shed the label of Champ of the Near Miss. Also at six under are Chella Choi, who added a 70 to her opening 66; Brittany Lincicome, who won the ANA Inspiration in 2009 and 2015 and moved up with a 66; and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, who’s trying to play her way onto the European Solheim Cup team.
At 137 are Moriya Jutanugarn, 22, the 2013 ROY and older sister of Ariya, who is looking for her first LPGA win; So Yeon Ryu, the No. 1 player in the Rolex Ranking who added the ANA Inspiration earlier this year to her other major title, the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open; last year’s Women’s PGA winner Brooke Henderson and Sarah Jane Smith, an Australian who’s been on tour since 2006 without a win.
Playing their way back into the hunt Friday were yet more major champions: Lydia Ko, whose 68 got her to four under par along with Michelle Wie, who shot 70; Lexi Thompson, who got to three under par with a 69; and Inbee Park, whose 67 rallied her to two under par.
Among those missing the cut at two over par were major winners Brittany Lang, Na Yeon Choi, Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist, Cristie Kerr, Shanshan Feng and Ariya Jutanugarn, who rallied furiously but bogeyed the last hole for a 68 and missed by a single stroke.
The wind died down and the heat and humidity was dialed up a notch Friday, foreshadowing the electrical storms that halted play at 2:09 p.m., although it quickly resumed at 2:30. The rain-softened course was vulnerable to low scores, and we got them, highlighted by a 63 by Kelly Shon, who opened with a 77 then made the cut easily.
“Fortunately, when I tee off, [it was] a little less windy [than Thursday],” Kim said after her 66. “So I was able to play to the pin, attack the pin. So I made a lot of opportunities for the birdie chance.” She made six birdies and one bogey in her 66.
Kang, 24, who played college golf at Pepperdine, has been near flawless through 36 holes. “Both of those rounds, I kept my game plan, and they were both bogey-free, so I’m pretty happy,” Kang said. “I kept sticking to the iron shots that I trusted all my life, and giving myself opportunities is what we‘ve been doing.”
Yang plodded through the thick air in a workmanlike effort. After a birdie on No. 18 Friday morning completed her first round at six under par for a one-stroke lead over Choi, Yang turned around less than an hour later to begin round two. She was one over for the round then finished the first nine birdie, par, birdie to turn in 34 and stretch her lead to two at seven under par.
The mini-burst was kick-started with a crafty knockdown shot under the wind on No, 16 – her seventh hole of the second round – that ended up 3 feet from the hole. Then she closed out the nine by hitting her pitch shot on the par-5 18th hole to a foot for birdie.
As Yang walked off No. 16 green I commented on her gorgeous approach shot to her caddie, veteran Ralph Scarinzi, who’s looped for such Hall of Famers as Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster. “Surprised me,” he said. “I didn’t know she had that shot.” Apparently, she has all the shots. When I asked Scarinzi how long he’d been looping for Yang, he paused for dramatic effect as if adding up the weeks then said, “25 holes.” Not a bad first tournament together for the duo.
“I wasn’t hitting as solid as yesterday,” Yang said. “But I stayed patient out there. I did my best. You know, I believe it’s still there. So I’m looking forward to play on the weekend.”
Like her sister, Moriya Jutanugarn works with the game coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson as well as swing coach Gary Gilchrist. Marriott and Nilsson are trying to make Moriya more of a feel player. To free up her swing they’ve had her doing a drill in which she lets go of the club on the follow through, sending it careening down the practice fairway. The drill seems to have worked.
Juntanugarn bounced back from three consecutive bogeys on her third through fifth hole of round one to play the next 31 holes four under par. On Friday, she hit all but one green in an extremely surgical effort.
“It helps me to maybe think a different way,” said Jutanugarn, whose game has been on the upswing in recent weeks. “I’m trying to work on a lot of things, like how I think on the golf course or like how I be on the golf course and enjoy it if it’s a good day or bad day. That’s kind of getting better this year since I work with Pia.”
As we go to Moving Day on Saturday, there is a ton of talent on the leaderboard. That seems to set the stage for a lot of fireworks going into the long Fourth of July weekend.
Click here for complete scores from the second round of the 2017 KPMG Women's PGA Championship