Another day at Aviara Golf Club and Inbee Park is still warming up.
The 20-time LPGA Tour champion followed a first-round 66 with a 3-under 69 on Friday. She holds the Kia Classic 36-hole lead by one at -9 overall in Carlsbad, Calif.
“I think I will be warming up for probably the next couple of weeks,” said Park, who found her way to four birdies in the second round. “I haven’t played tournament golf in three months and after not touching the golf clubs that much, it’s different coming out here trying to contact the ball. It sometimes looks weird. I feel like I’m doing it very well [though].”
Park pointed out the challenge she faced putting on the greens this afternoon, a facet of the game she thinks will have a resounding impact on the outcome of the weekend.
“I hit good shots and it’s just weird on these greens because I hit the shots really close and I didn’t make the birdie putts, but I hit it to 15, 20 feet and I made those birdie putts,” said Park, a seven-time major championship winner. “The holes I made today was pretty much 10- to 20-footers. Coming in, the last three holes I missed from probably inside 5, 6 feet. Really need patience.”
A major champion in her own right, Sophia Popov is -8 at the halfway point of the Kia Classic and hot on Park’s heels. The two will be joined in Saturday’s final grouping by Mel Reid, a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2020 ShopRite LPGA Classic.
“I’m obviously going to have to play well to get the job done over the weekend having a couple of major champions ahead of me,” said Reid, who is solo third at -6 following a bogey-free 70 in round two. “Inbee, arguably one of the best golfers that has ever played our game. Good friends with Sophia. Should be a fun weekend, I’m looking forward to it.”
Hyo Joo Kim signed for an even-par 72 to stay at -5, while Wei-Ling Hsu managed a 3-under 69 after a rocky start. She opened the day on No. 10 and made the turn 2-over with only the daunting front nine to play, featuring formidable holes that she “doesn’t really play comfortable and feel a little bit afraid” of.
“I told my caddie [Trey Bilardello] that I get a little afraid and he let me know this is just second round, that, ‘You competing with the best golfers on the Tour. You shouldn’t be afraid. Just go for it,’” said Hsu, who scored three birdies and an eagle at No. 4 on the front nine to round out the top-five players on the leaderboard and reach -4 overall. “I listened to that and tried to bring it back on the front nine. I told my caddie that, ‘I’m going to try make three birdies,’ which I did even better.”
Following the second round, In Gee Chun was disqualified for failing to certify her scorecard. The error was found during the standard post-round scorecard review process, when it was discovered she had neglected to sign her scorecard. Failure to certify hole scores is a breach of Rule 3.3b(2), which states it is the player’s responsibility to certify their scores.
Local favorite Haley Moore punched her ticket to the weekend with a second-round 71. The Escondido, Calif., native is tied for 50th at +2.
Despite showings of 1-under and even par, respectively, defending champion Nasa Hataoka and 2020 U.S. Women’s Open champion A Lim Kim, making her first start as a LPGA Tour Member, both missed the cut at +6 overall. It was the same story for Michelle Wie West, competing in her first LPGA Tour event since the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship after welcoming daughter Makenna in June 2020. She improved by seven strokes on day two with a 2-over 74 but finished at +11 overall. A total of 76 players made the cut at +3 or better.
INBEE PARK IN PRIME POSITION FOR FIRST AVIARA VICTORY
Aviara Golf Club seems like a second home for LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park. Since the tournament moved to Carlsbad, Calif., in 2013, Park has four top-10 finishes and no showing worse than 21st. With an average finish of 10th and a scoring average of 69.3 (including scores of 66-69 this week), it’s surprising that Park has never hoisted the red glass trophy awarded to the tournament winner.
But it’s no surprise that Park holds the lead at -9 heading into the weekend at the Kia Classic.
“I just really like the golf course. It is a beautiful golf course and really suits my game,” said Park. “I hit a lot of short irons into this golf course, which I don't get every week, so, yeah, I'm really happy that I get to attack a lot of pins this week. I think that has kind of made a difference.”
Park is 36 holes away from earning the 21st victory of her illustrious LPGA career. If she captures a win on Sunday, Park will join LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith with 21 wins and would be just four victories shy of matching Se Ri Pak as the winningest Korean player in LPGA Tour history. And statistics show that if Inbee Park leads after 36 holes, she is extremely hard to catch. She has either held or shared the lead through 36 holes on 12 occasions, with six wins and four runner-up finishes.