Lexi Thompson and Ai Miyazato sit atop the leaderboard at 7-under par after two rounds of the ANA Inspiration and lead a strong group of pursuers including a group of six trailing by just one shot at 6-under par. Major champions
Lydia Ko, Suzann Pettersen and In Gee Chun are within striking distance after all posting rounds in the 60s on Friday.
Thompson, who is playing for her second title at this championship, capped off a solid round of 68 with a 30-foot birdie putt on the iconic 18th hole at Mission Hills to take the clubhouse lead in the morning wave.
“Yeah, 18 is one of the best finishing holes that we have out here, but to hear the crowds cheer making that putt definitely a good feeling,” said Thompson. “Gives me chills every time.”
Thompson held a share of the 36-hole lead in 2014 when she won her first major championship here. She was tied at the top of the leaderboard with Se Ri Pak at the same score (7-under par) she has after two rounds this week. Thompson (69-68) and In Gee Chun (69-69) are the only two players in the field this week with both rounds in the 60’s.
“I definitely could have shot a few shots lower out there, but I hit some bad shots out there too that I got away with and I recovered really well,” said Thompson. “That’s what you have to do in majors. If you hit a bad shot, you have to pick yourself up and go to the next one.”
Miyazato, who held a share of the first-round lead, had an up-and-down day with five birdies and three bogeys in her round of 70. She birdied the par 5 9th hole, her last of the day, to pull even with Thompson.
“That was huge. I know for some points you can have a bogey on this golf course, but I had to be really patient, and I had a good feeling with my short game,” said Miyazato. “So I kind of had that confidence, but it was really good up-and-down and kind of a nice stretch towards the end.”
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lydia Ko moved herself up the leaderboard with a 4-under 68 on Thursday and is going for her second straight major title. She won the LPGA’s last major in 2015 at the Evian Championship. The 18-year old is coming off her 11th career victory last week at the Kia Classic but said she hasn’t been as sharp this week as she has been all season.
“It’s not as good as the last few weeks, but I still feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty solidly,” said Ko. “I’ve just got to give myself good chances. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to give myself 18 chances, but as many chances as I can. If I am in trouble, try and advance it out and try to make up-and-down for par.”
Five players are in a tie for ninth and two shots back including Michelle Wie (69), Minjee Lee (68) and Ha Na Jang (70). Wie’s round of 69 was her first round in 60’s of the 2016 season and first since the final round of the 2015 CME Group Tour Championship.
“I mean, this is a really special place for me,” said Wie. “This is like my 12th time being here. Just all the crowds and a lot of memories, the same guy who has been walking with me since I was 13, was walking with me. It’s a really special place, and I’m just going to have fun the next couple of days. It’s really fun being back in contention, so I’m going to just kind of have fun out there.”
TIME FOR A CHANGE
There was no doubt in Lexi Thompson’s mind that she needed to make some sort of change to her putting following last week’s Kia Classic. Even the fact that she was getting ready to play in the year’s first major championship didn’t sway her from making the significant switch to put a new flatstick in her bag, the CURE putter.
“It was just that bad last week,” said Thompson. “It’s like ten putts less every day compared to last week. But putting is all about confidence, and the putter change, to the CURE putter helped me out a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable over the putt this is week.”
Thompson definitely struggled with her putter last week in Carlsbad. She averaged 35 putts per round over the four-day event and had a total of eight three putts. That’s certainly frustrating when you consider the fact that she still finished even par for the event overall.
The change in putter has already been paying dividends as Thompson needed just 27 putts in her first round and 29 in Friday’s second round when she shot a 4-under 68 to take a share of the lead entering the weekend at the ANA Inspiration.
“Coming off last week just how it went for me and just I knew where my confidence was, I needed a change,” Thompson said of going to the new putter, which she first tried on Tuesday. “It couldn’t get any worse than what it did last week. I’ve always seen the CURE putter around, I’ve just never really tried it, and I tried it here and it felt amazing. And then I changed my stance so a little bit more narrow and just a lot more simple.”
Lydia Ko didn’t feel her ball striking was the best in Friday’s second round but perhaps even more impressive about her 4-under 68 was that the No. 1 player in the world had to play for most of her round with good vision in only one eye.
Dealing with some allergies and an issue with one of her contacts that eventually led to her removing it altogether prior to her post-round interviews, Ko battled through a watery left eye to move herself within one shot of co-leaders Lexi Thompson and Ai Miyazato.
“I’m currently one eye blind,” Ko said with a laugh after her round. “I don’t have very good eyesight, especially my left side is the worst, so it was really irritating me and hopefully it will be okay by tomorrow. But I pulled through. I made a few birdies down the stretch, so maybe it was actually better that my eye was a problem.”
Ko said that her eye bothered her more on her back nine but it wasn’t evident as she made three birdies over her final nine holes. The distraction, Ko said, actually helped her to keep her focus more simple when she was putting and she made a few more putts that she did in Thursday’s opening round.
But while her eye was an irritation on Friday, don’t expect to see the glasses that were once a signature part of Ko’s look during Saturday’s third round.
“I might be winking then,” Ko joked.
Lizette Salas considers the first major of the year to be her hometown event on the LPGA Tour with her native Azusa, Calif. just an hour and a half drive to Mission Hills. The 26-year old says that the Southern California support at this event is something that has helped her along the way.
“They’re definitely a huge support whether I’m playing poorly or whether I’m playing awesome,” said Salas. “Just having them out here keeps the adrenaline going. I hit some big shots out there, and thanks to them, keeping that high spirit and cheering me on and hearing the Trojan call, it’s pretty awesome to have them out here. They got up pretty early to watch me play, so my team is awesome, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Salas, who admitted to not playing very well so far in 2016 (no top-10s), said her experience at this event three years ago is something she will rely on heading into the weekend. In her second year on Tour in 2013, Salas went into the final round here three shots off third-round leader Inbee Park and in the final group. She shot 79 and finished in a tie for 25th.
“I mean, that experience really has helped me. It’s helped me be more comfortable in that certain situation,” said Salas. “Obviously it was my second year on Tour and never been in that spot before, so I definitely know what to expect. I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous out there and having the cameras out, I haven’t been playing that great lately. To finally see the results that I’ve been working for and it’s pretty inspiring, pretty motivating, and just can’t wait to see what happens on the weekend.”
Salas has since won her first and lone LPGA victory (2014 Kingsmill Championship) and said her iron play on Friday helped her finish just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend. She’s trying to become the 16th player in history to win her first major at this event.
“But I was really dialed in on my irons today and really just trying to keep things simple. Even though I missed a couple fairways, I stayed patient and knew what my strengths were, and just chipped out good saves for par,” said Salas. “Missed a couple of good opportunities for birdie, but this course is not that easy. It could really bite you in the butt if you don’t pay attention. Just hit some good spots, missed it in the right spots and just had a lot of fun this morning.”
CHEERS TO THE WEEKEND
The cutline fell at 2-over par 146 with a total of 73 players making the cut. Notables to miss the cut: Morgan Pressel (+3), Jessica Korda (+3), Yani Tseng (+5).
ANOTHER FRESH FACE
Sung Hyun Park is making only her fourth LPGA start this week in the desert and making her major championship debut. The KLPGA member, who earned entry into the field based on her Rolex Ranking, had to reevaluate her goals coming into this week. This is her third consecutive event on the LPGA Tour after receiving sponsor invites to both the JTBC Founders Cup and the Kia Classic.
“Top 20 was goal of Founders cup. Last week was top 10,” said Park. “I achieved it. This week, my goal is top 5. I’m aiming more higher every week. So far, so good. Let’s see what will happen this weekend.”
The 22-year old said she has no nerves heading into the weekend in contention and already has four career victories on the LPGA of Korea (KLPGA) including one this season. She currently ranks first on the Tour’s Order of Merit and finished second last year to now LPGA rookie In Gee Chun.
“I have lots of experience top of leader board when I played KLPGA event,” said Park. “So that was fine. Anyway experience last week help my game this week, I think.”
Sung Hyun Park’s Starts on the LPGA Tour
|2015 KEB-HanaBank Championship
|2016 JTBC Founders Cup
|2016 Kia Classic
|2016 ANA Inspiration
“I definitely felt like I could have made a lot more. I just felt like a blind person out there. I hit a lot of good putts; I just misread them slightly.”
-Michelle Wie on how she felt about her putting in Friday’s second round
“I’m more mature than when I was No. 1 in the world. That was at a time when I was 25. It has been like five years and I’ve been through so many things. My game has not been a really big change, but in personality I think I’ve grown up so much. I think it’s just the same as golf and the same as life. Sometimes you learn and sometimes you forget about it and just keep trying, and that’s how I’m here. I don’t know if I say like I’m better than five years ago, but definitely personally I feel more mature.”
– Ai Miyazato on how her game is different now than when she was No. 1 in the world
“He just told me to go out and play and don’t think, which is for me, a huge challenge. I can’t say how many times he’s been pushing me saying just go play, play the course, forget about everything else. That’s a barrier I’ve got to overcome. Having been with Lead where you can just think yourself crazy, it’s a different challenge.”
-Suzann Pettersen on the advice Butch Harmon gave her coming into the first major of the year
NUMBERS TO KNOW
1 – Michelle Wie recorded her first round in the 60s this season in Friday’s second round.
5 – Lexi Thompson has led or co-led five times after round 2 in her career and won four of them; her last victory leading after round 2 was 2015 at the Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Kraft where she shot all four rounds in the 60s
6 – Six players recorded an eagle during the 2nd round compared to four a year ago
9 – Nine players made six birdies in their round on Friday, which was the most by any player for the day
48 - Number of players who made birdie on the 11th hole; which played as the easiest hole on the course on Friday
66 – Bo-Mee Lee shot the lowest round of the day, a 66 with six birdies. She is currently No. 15 in the Rolex Rankings and one of eight Koreans in the top 15.