Jutanugarn Chasing First Win, Major Champs Lurking
This weekend, while Moriya Jutanugarn and Marina Alex will be chasing a first win on the LPGA Tour, they’ll be chased by three, major champions in Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu and Eun-Hee Ji. It makes for a thrilling leaderboard at the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC LA Open where Jutanugarn leads at 8-under par, one stroke ahead of Alex. Park, a two-time major champion, is lurking two strokes back at 6-under. Park, a 7-time major champion and Olympic gold medalist, is just three strokes back at 5-under par along with U.S. Women's Open champion Eun-Hee Ji.
Patience was the key for Jutanugarn, who started her day two-strokes back of the lead. She began her day on the back nine and quickly added two birdies in her first four holes. Then, a string of three consecutive birdies on the second nine launched her to the top of the leaderboard. She posted a bogey-free, 5-under par, 66 to take the outright lead through 36-holes.
“Just try and hit fairways and greens. That’s the key for this week. That’s what I try to do,” Jutanugarn told Golf Channel after her round.
Jutanugarn will sleep on the 36-hole lead for just the second time in her career. The first time came last season at the Evian Championship, where she finished just one stroke outside of the playoff between Anna Nordqvist and Brittany Altomare. It was one of 11 top 10 finishes for Jutanugarn in 2017, who, like Alex, joined the Tour in 2013 and has been gunning for her first win over the last two seasons. She has 21 career top 10s, with more than half of those coming in just the last year. She already has three more to start 2018 and is poised to win for the first time this weekend at Wilshire Country Club.
The cut line fell at 4-over par, sending home last week’s winner Brooke Henderson, who on Friday posted an 8-over par, 79 for the third time in her career to finish well outside the cut line at 7-over par. Other notables to miss the cut include major champions Anna Nordqvist, Stacy Lewis and Juli Inkster. At 5-over par, Sung Hyun Park, the 2017 Rookie and co-Player of the Year, missed the second cut of her career on the LPGA Tour.
In The Zone
A super focused So Yeon Ryu didn’t even realize what a great start she got off to on Friday. The former world No. 1 made back-to-back birdies to start her second round en route to the low round of the week, so far, with a 6-under par, 65. She was in the zone.
“When you're really focused, you don't even know what you had last hole, so I didn't even feel like I made two [birdies] in a row. I didn't really [get] pumped about it,” Ryu said after her round. “I was really focused on all the shots and I was really focused on the present, and that really helped me to play well today.”
Friday’s round could be the spark the two-time major champion has been looking for this season. The current Rolex Rankings’ world No. 5 has gotten off to a slow start in 2018, relative to years past. By this time last season, Ryu had six top 10s and a win at the ANA Inspiration. This year, she has just one top 10. Frustrated with her start to the season, Ryu began overthinking her swing. Friday, she stopped thinking and started feeling.
“When you're struggling you start to think about technique more, instead of starting to feel about your game. I was like, ‘Okay, just get rid of technique thinking and let's just focus on what I feel, then just visualize more.’ That really helped me to play well today.”
Poa Annua Stumps Park
First round leader Inbee Park, surprisingly backed up early on Friday. Like last week in Hawaii, putting was again the struggle for Park. The reason this time? The Poa annua greens.
Park teed off early Thursday morning and enjoyed the smooth putting surfaces. She cruised to a 5-under par, 66. But it was a much different story when Park began her round Friday afternoon. She quickly learned that the greens were Poa annua, which she didn’t realize Thursday. As is the case with Poa annua, the greens got bumpy in the afternoon and presented a huge challenge for Park.
“Playing in the afternoon, it's so much tougher to hole a putt,” Park told Golf Channel after her round. “It's just hard to trust your line when you know it's just going to bounce everywhere.”
Short putts were her nemesis as she made two bogeys on her opening nine. But at the turn the LPGA Tour Hall of Famer rediscovered her putting prowess and rolled in putts from 30 and 40 feet for back-to-back birdies at the 10th and 11th holes.
“I told my caddie, Brad, maybe we need to hit it a little further and maybe it’ll be better,” Park joked after her round about leaving herself longer putts. “I was able to hole the long ones but wasn’t able to make the short ones.”
Park rolled in another long birdie try at the 14th hole, but missed putts from short range at the 15th, 17th and 18th holes to finish the day right back where she started. Park posted a round of Even par, 71 to remain at 5-under par for the Tournament and 3-back of the lead.
Ryu Talks Keys to Low Round