As attention was focused on Stacy Lewis’ course record tying 63 on Thursday, Inbee Park quietly continued her climb up the leaderboard to take the 36-hole lead in Rio. On day two, the world No.5 carded her second consecutive round of 66 at the Olympic Golf Course in Barra da Tijuca to climb to 10-under par and take a one-stroke lead ahead of Lewis.
The Republic of Korea’s top-ranked player is making just her second competitive start this week since June’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship as she continues to rehab an ongoing left thumb injury that forced her to withdraw from multiple events on the LPGA Tour this year. It was only last month that Park says she decided to compete in Rio.
"I think first coming here, I didn't really know whether I was going to play this week or not due to the injury," Park told the media. "Obviously didn't expect much of a result. It was more of, you know, whether I can play or not. So I mean, a good result is a great gift. But at the same time, I know I've been in the position before and I know in a good condition, I can do it. I think just trying to enjoy the Olympics and try to enjoy the Olympic golf, brought really good results."
Despite shooting 66, Park says she didn't have her best game on Thursday after hitting several wayward tee shots, but was pleased with her ability to still be able to make birdie from some difficult lies. The comfort of having spent an additional day on the course, along with nerves subsiding after becoming an Olympian on Wednesday, allowed Park to focus more on her game Thursday.
"First round, I think everybody was really nervous and they were kind of new to the golf course," said Park. "So they were just kind of trying to see the golf course and everyone was just getting used to the golf course. But today obviously, everybody knows where to hit and next two rounds, I think everybody kind of really knows the golf course and the real game begins."
For the final two rounds in Rio, the world No.5 says she's going to stick to the routine that has served her well in her seven major victories on Tour.
"I think I'm going to treat it just like a major championship that I've done before. I'm just going to try to treat nothing different," said Park. "Just going to try to treat everything the same and try to do what I've just done for the last two days, trying to hit the ball in the fairway and trying to make some putts."
Hoping to capture her first win in more than two years, U.S.A’s Lewis vaulted to the top of the leaderboard on day two, matching the course record and her career low round with a 63 to move to nine-under par. Lewis’ putter caught fire on Thursday as the world No.7 made more than 119 feet worth of putts for 11 birdies en route to an eight-under par 63, which matched the course record set last week by Marcus Fraser and Matt Kuchar during the men’s competition. Lewis’ round could have been even more special but she dropped a shot at the seventh hole and made double bogey at the par three, 14th hole before bouncing back with birdies on her final four holes of the day.
"I wouldn't say it was one swing or another, but I honestly think the putts going in just completely freed things up," Lewis told the media. "You know, didn't worry about trying to hit it so close. When you're making a 15‑ or 20‑footer, instead of‑‑ you're not worried about trying to hit it to five feet. When you're not trying to hit it so close, that's when you do. It was just all about freeing it up with the putter. I think that's really what got the golf swing going."
The past two years have been a challenge for the two-time major champion, who last won on the LPGA Tour in June of 2014 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Since then, Lewis has recorded 11 runner-up finishes but has been unable to breakthrough for a win. Over that time, her priorities have shifted towards her personal life as she got married just last week before arriving in Rio for the Olympic games. But her game has continued to trend upward, having not finished outside the top-7 in her last five starts in addition to her victory as a member of Team U.S.A at the UL International Crown in July.
"The swing, the putting, nothing was where I wanted it to be," said Lewis. "Actually on my way to Portland, I pulled out DVDs of a couple of my old wins, and just was trying to see what is different. Something has to be different here. Saw one thing in the setup of my putting, and that was kind of the big thing was the setup of my putting. Got my hands a little bit further away from me. But also saw that I hit a lot of bad shots and won golf tournaments. I don't know what it was, but just watching those videos really helped me, helped me start playing better. And really from Portland on, I've played some really good golf. The last four weeks, I think I've had four Top‑10s. So the golf is going in the right direction, and that's what‑‑ when I win, it's usually after some Top‑10s. And so I know I just need to keep grinding out and keep trying to play some good golf."
She’s joined this week in Rio by two of her fellow teammates Gerina Piller and Lexi Thompson who sit at six-under and three-under par, respectively.
Great Britain’s Charley Hull sits two-back of the lead after posting a five-under par, 66 including birdies on her final three holes to climb to eight-under par. Canada’s Brooke Henderson made a charge on Thursday after struggling on day one, carding the second lowest round of the day with a seven-under par, 64 to move to eight-under par. Henderson birdied her final four holes of the day to sit just two-back of the lead heading into Friday’s round.
First round leader Ariya Jutanugarn struggled off the tee and with her ball striking on Friday, making two bogeys in her first five holes to open the door for Lewis and Park. Jutanugarn posted an even par, 71 on day two to remain at six-under par.