Rolex First-Time Winner Atthaya Thitikul took the biggest advantage of Moving Day at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G in Rogers, Ark. The 19-year-old fired a bogey-free, 10-under 61 to tie the 18-hole tournament scoring record first set by major champion So Yeon Ryu in 2017 and now has a one-shot lead heading into Sunday. The 61 is the lowest round of Thitikul’s LPGA Tour career, besting her previous record of 63 by two shots, and her 36-hole total of 128 is also a new career-low, three shots better than the 131 she recorded at the 2021 Honda LPGA Thailand. After going out in 32 on the back nine, Thitikul absolutely torched the front nine, finishing eagle-birdie-birdie to cap off the record-tying round – 18 holes that saw her mind just go “blank” as she was playing.
“I had a really good game even yesterday, but I just didn't make the putt that much,” said the rookie, who needed just 26 putts to get the job done on Saturday. “I hit a pretty good shot and then just keep rolling the ball, patient, and make the putt more than yesterday. I think my mind went blank and just nothing there. Just hit a shot, just tap it in, putt it in. Like totally blank. I think when I play really good golf or shoot like really low score my mindset is like blank. It's really good to keep that blank mind for tomorrow.”
It’s the first time in Thitikul’s young career that she’ll sleep on the 36-hole lead or co-lead, but she isn’t any stranger to being in contention on Sunday. She became a Rolex First-Time Winner earlier this season at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol after defeating Nanna Koerstz Madsen in a playoff at Aviara Golf Club. When asked what it would mean to capture her second win in such a short amount of time, the 2022 rookie gave a Tour veteran’s answer.
“I think everyone that plays out here wants to win; I want to win as well,” said Thitikul. "Every week that we play we want to win, and just like if it's your day, it's your day, like I said every single time. If it's not, then it's not. But if I can win tomorrow, which would be my number two on the Tour, it's going to be pretty special.”
One shot back is Yuka Saso, who like Thitikul, knows what it’s like to win at just 19 years old. Saso became an LPGA Tour Member after her victory at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica and is looking for her first win since that fateful day at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. She followed up her blemish-free, first-round 64 with another bogey-free round, 6-under 65 that has her in solo second at -13.
“Just trying to be patient and trying to play consistent, trying to have fun,” said Saso, who hit 8 of 13 fairways and 13 of 18 greens on Saturday. “That's been my mindset this week. I don't think I'm going to change anything. Trying to have fun and learn a lot tomorrow.”
Lilia Vu is in the mix for the second straight event despite battling some back discomfort that’s been plaguing her since last week’s AmazingCre Portland Classic. Vu carded second-straight 65 on day two that was highlighted by three consecutive birdies on 16, 17 and 18 and an eagle on the par-5 7th. She currently sits in solo third, two shots back of Thitikul. It’s the third time this season she’s been within five of the lead entering the final round and Vu has yet to capitalize on the opportunity, still working towards that elusive first LPGA Tour title.
“I feel like it was never a matter of my game or skills that were lacking. I felt like I wasn't looking at golf in a healthy and positive way. Every shot was life or death,” said Vu. “I feel like I figured it out last year. I'm just going to go out there and have fun. I know how good I am. I'm going to try my best, and whatever happens, happens. Taking that mindset into this year has helped me as well.”
Nine players are in a tie for fourth at -10, most notably Chevron champion Jennifer Kupcho, who is looking for her fourth victory of the 2022 season, and six-time LPGA Tour winner Danielle Kang, who is making just her third start since undergoing treatment for a tumor on her spine. A total of 70 players made the cut at -4, including University of Arkansas alums Alana Uriell and Gaby Lopez.