Kemper Lakes became Kemper Bakes on Friday as the mercury hit the mid 90s outside Chicago with the “feels like” number a sticky 107. And second-round play in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship packed a sizzle of its own, cooking up a tasty leaderboard with major winners So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and Brooke Henderson tied for the lead after 36 holes.
Partly because majors get harder each day and partly because Kemper Lakes was defenseless Thursday – soft turf, receptive greens and no wind – the lead after the second round was no lower than after the first. Park, who opened with a nifty 66, turned in a safely played 72 to be at 6-under-par 138 along with Ryu, who matched her first-round 69, and Henderson, who followed a 67 with a 71. Alone at 139 is Carlota Ciganda after a 69.
The low score of the day was by Lydia Ko, who began outside the cut line but thrust herself into contention with a 66 that included five birdies in six holes beginning on No. 8. She was at 140 with Moriya Jutanugarn and Annie Park. At 141 are Nasa Hataoka, Dani Holmqvist, Wichanee Meechai and Jaye Marie Green.
The leaders were finished before Jessica Korda and Green, at five under par, and Charley Hull and Laetitia Beck, at four under, teed off for their second round in the peak heat and with enough wind to make it feel like you were inside a hair dryer. All struggled in the trying conditions.
Green was six under par through 16 holes but made a triple bogey on No. 17 on her way to a 74. Korda, who twice got to six under, was undone by two double bogeys and finished with a 75 to put her at 142. Hull is at 143 and Beck 146.
Kemper Lakes, which played two strokes harder on Friday than Thursday, punished plenty of players. Among those who missed the cut were major winners In Gee Chun, Inbee Park and Anna Nordqvist. Still lurking are defending champion Danielle Kang at 142; Cristie Kerr and I.K. Kim at 143; Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie and Ariya Jutanugarn at 145.
Henderson, the Canadian who loves northern courses – she’s won twice in Oregon, once in Michigan and the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA at Sahalee in Washington, is once again playing well up north and on a difficult golf course. She closed her round with a birdie to get a share of the lead.
“It was kind of up-and-down all day,” Henderson said. “I made some birdies but I countered them with bogeys, so to finish off with a nice birdie putt on 18 gives me a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. I would have liked to have shot a little bit better today, but one under when it was so hot and so windy, I'll take it.”
As a long hitter not afraid to hit driver, she’s done well on the demanding courses created by PGA of America set-up guru Kerry Haigh. When she won this tournament at Sahalee, she hit driver on many holes when others used lay-up clubs to negotiate their way through the towering trees.
“I just love the energy and the atmosphere here, and knowing that I've played well here in the past kind of just gives me that little bit of extra boost,” she said about the Women’s PGA. “I think just because it plays a little bit longer -- generally I play a lot better on tougher courses, and I think they always kind of pick tough courses. So far it's been working out really well for me.”
Ryu, winner of the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2017 ANA Inspiration, celebrated her 28th birthday in a pretty spectacular way, the icing on her cake being a chip-in for birdie over a bunker on No. 5.
“Well, maybe that's one of the best birthday gifts I've ever got,” Ryu said. “The chip shot was a pretty tough one, but I made the birdie and I was able to have two birdies under my belt after like five holes, so that was pretty happy.”
Park, who won the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open on her way to being Rolex Rookie of the Year and sharing Player of the Year with Ryu, didn’t make her first bogey until her 29th hole. On Friday, she tried to stay out of trouble rather than attack the golf course. Even though she is one of the longest hitters on the LPGA, she went at the par-5 holes cautiously, playing them one over par.
With three-dozen players within six strokes of the lead, moving day will be a mad scramble to climb the leaderboard. And if the weather forecast is correct, it will be even hotter on Saturday. The course, the conditions and the quality of play make this truly a major championship test, just as it is supposed to be.