After 36 holes at the Buick LPGA Shanghai, Maja Stark converted her 18-hole lead into another on Friday in her debut appearance at Qizhong Garden Golf Club, carding a second-round 68 to take a one-stroke lead at -10 heading into the weekend. The Swede, who is looking for her first victory since becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2022 ISPS Handa World Invitational, ended Friday one-shot off Shanghai’s 36-hole record (134).
“I think I played a little bit better than yesterday actually because I hit better shots. Obviously didn't make as many putts as I did yesterday, but overall my game felt better,” said Stark.
Stark, who opened with back-to-back rounds in the 60s for just the third time this season and the first time since the FREED Group Women’s Scottish Open, notched her first birdie of the day on No. 3. A missed green on the par-3 7th led to her only bogey through 36 holes, but she recovered quick with two-straight birdies on Nos. 8 and 9. She closed with two more birdies on Nos. 13 and 16 to finish out with the first 36-hole lead of her Tour career. Stark, who admitted to a confidence boost after first Solheim Cup start two weeks ago in Spain, will play alongside two-time Buick champion Danielle Kang and the People’s Rep. of China’s own Yu Liu who are tied for second at -9 on Saturday.
“I'm really excited to play with [Liu]. On her home soil I think she's going to be ready to play really well,” said Stark, who faced Liu at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play in May and won 2&1. “Her home course, I didn't actually know that, but I feel like I could maybe get some tips because it's pretty tricky out there. Maybe I'll steal some of her strategies.”
Liu, whose 67 ties her season-low individual 18-hole score, carded a solo birdie on No. 3 and a bogey on 8 in her first eight holes. But, it was five birdies in the next six holes on Nos. 9 and 11-14 that brought Liu back up the leaderboard and in contention once again in her home country.
“To be honest, pretty low expectations coming in because I'm not good at playing in the rain, so I knew the forecast was pretty much going to rain all throughout the round, which it did,” said Liu, who finished in a tie for ninth in 2018 and a tie for third in 2019 in the event’s first two editions. “So I just feel like -- my goal today was just to get through the round without making too much damage. I feel like I did a pretty good job.”
Kang’s round consisted of seven birdies and two bogeys, including four of those birdies coming in her final six holes of the day on Nos. 13, 15, 16 and 18. Kang is now -25 in her last six rounds at the Buick LPGA Shanghai, and a bogey on No. 10 on Friday stopped her consecutive holes without a birdie streak in the event at 61 total.
“I have hit some good drives. Keep giving myself some good opportunities it be able to hit the second shots and stuff, so game has been feeling good for a little bit,” said Kang.
#LPGAMom Azahara Munoz, who entered this week at No. 101 in the Race to the CME Globe Points List, sits in a tie for fourth along with rookie Yuna Nishimura and Thailand’s Pavarisa Yoktuan at -8. Esther Henseleit is solo seventh at -7 after a steady second-day 69, while six players are tied for eighth at -6 including China’s Danlin Cai in her first LPGA Tour start and major champions Ariya Jutanugarn and A Lim Kim.
“First hole I made a nice up and down and I actually almost chipped in. Ever since then I start hitting it really good. On 2, hit is super close; didn't make it. On 3 hitting it really close; made it. On 4, the same thing,” said Munoz, who is the lone player bogey-free through 36 holes in Shanghai. “After that, I just kind of kept trotting along and never got myself in trouble and just made a few more birdies.”
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lilia Vu is among a tie for 14th at -5 and is one of 20 players within five strokes of Stark’s lead. World No. 2 Ruoning Yin recorded a second-straight round under par in her return to Shanghai after carding two bogeys and four birdies to sit in a tie for 30th at -3. Sei Young Kim withdrew prior to the second round due to illness.