In 2017, Sung Hyun Park did something only Nancy Lopez had managed previously. She was the LPGA's Rolex Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season. Now she’s trying to match Lopez again. Nancy followed the 1978 double with another Player of the Year award in 1979. Park would take a big step in that direction with a victory at the ANA Inspiration, the first major of 2018, and she played Friday’s second round as if that’s her intention.
Park simply overpowered Mission Hills with a 64 that included a hole-out from 100 yards for eagle on No. 15. How good was that 64? It was the low round of the day by three strokes. Park’s 12-under par 132 is tied for the lead with Pernilla Lindberg and they now share the 36-hole scoring record, one better than Lorena Ochoa in 2006 when she opened with a 62, the course record for the ANA.
Park started with a bogey but that was pretty much her only mistake as she hit 17 greens. Sung Hyun, whose lightning-fast hip turn generates enormous club head speed, averaged 291 yards off the tee. Lindberg, who has not won an event on the LPGA, Symetra or LET, has yet to make a bogey this week.
Jessica Korda had one of the best rounds of the afternoon wave, making birdies on three of her last four holes for a 68 that put her alone in third place at 135. Sitting in fourth at 137 are Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Amy Olson, Charley Hull and Ayako Uehara. Albane Valenzuela, the 20-year-old amateur from Switzerland, was at 138 with Jennifer Song and Beatriz Recari.
Park, who closed 67-67 to win last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, has proven to be a big-game player. She has four top-six finishes in nine majors, including second at the 2016 Evian Championship and third at the U.S. Women’s Open the same year. Sung Hyun also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last year and has 10 Korea LPGA titles.
“Today the shots were awesome,” she said. “I just felt really good about my driver. The shots fell in just as I wanted them to. Even though there were a couple things that I missed, but overall just had a great round.”
Asked if she were aware of how low she was going, Park said: “I had no idea. I just was so focused on my game today. I was super focused at the U.S. Women’s Open [last year], and felt just as focused for today's round.”
Meanwhile, Lexi Thompson scrambled to a 72 capped by hitting to 4 inches to birdie No. 18. She missed a 7-footer, a 6-footer and five putts from 4-feet or in, including a three-putt from 4 feet on No. 12. “I hit it really well today,” Lexi said. “I just struggled on the greens. I'm going to get a little practice in and hopefully get it by the weekend.”
Michelle Wie, who complained of dizziness after an opening 75, made the cut with a 67 to be at two-under-par 142, 10 strokes off the lead. “I definitely saw one golf ball today, which was good,” Wie said. “I just sat down every chance I could. My caddie helped me a lot out there, just getting all the numbers. I asked him to read every putt for me because I just couldn't see everything. I'm just going to go see the doctor right now and just rest for the afternoon.”
While Park overpowered Mission Hills, Lindberg finessed her way around and is a true Cinderella story. On the LPGA, Symetra and LET combined, this is her 250th start without a win. The 31-year-old Swede played at Oklahoma State but her only experience with the leaderboard at a major was the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open, when she opened with three rounds of 70 and closed with a 67 to finish T-5.
“I felt last week at the Kia Classic that I was playing better and better each and every day,” Lindberg said. “I missed the cut in Phoenix. I got a couple extra days on the weekend to practice, and my coach arrived for the weekend from Sweden. We got some time to do good work. I felt good coming into this week.”
While Lindberg was helped by her coach, Park is a rarity among top players in that she doesn’t have one. “I really enjoy the time alone to practice alone,” Park said. “If it comes to the point where I need a coach, I will consider that, but right now I just feel really good about my game. It's my own game, so anytime I need to fix something, I'm going to feel that, and I think it's really served me well to work on my own.”
So there you have it. Going into the weekend at the ANA Inspiration, one co-leader doesn’t have a coach and the other doesn’t have a win. And both will be looking over her shoulder to see who’s charging on moving day. The stage is set for a major weekend.