LPGA Tour rookie and Thailand native Natthakrita Vongtaveelap has vaulted up the leaderboard after the second round of the 2023 Honda LPGA Thailand. Starting the day in a tie for ninth, the 20-year-old equaled the low round of the week on Friday, firing a -7, 65 that saw her card one bogey and eight birdies, four of which were consecutive on holes 12 through 15. It’s the first time that a rookie has led an LPGA Tour event after 36 holes since 2022 rookie Allisen Corpuz led The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican through two rounds last November. Vongtaveelap is competing as a sponsor exemption this week – she was invited after winning a national qualifier for the event earlier this year – and is enjoying the experience thus far, especially playing in front of a hometown crowd.
“I feel excited to play in front of Thai fans. Yeah, this is my first time, you know. It's my largest crowd in my life,” said Vongtaveelap, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens with 27 putts. “I just want to make more birdies so I have to play under the pressure. That's it. I just want to make my score going better and better.”
LPGA Tour winner Maja Stark sits in solo second at -11 after recording a bogey-free, 5-under 67 on day two. The 23-year-old Swede started strong, making birdie on the par-4, 2nd and then hopped on the par train, finally making another birdie on the par-5, 7th. Stark carded six more pars before making back-to-back birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 and notched her final birdie of the day on hole 17 to finish blemish-free and sit one back of Vongtaveelap.
“Actually felt like I played better today. I think it was just luck yesterday that I made a few shots. But it was very steady. I think I only really had to save one par,” said Stark, who hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation. “I said in the fairway or on the tee box on 14, I said to my caddie, ‘Let's make a birdie.’ Then I made one. Then I made another one. Then on 17, I said, ‘Let's make a long putt.’ Then I made it. So I should just keep saying, ‘let's make a birdie’, because then it usually happens.”
A logjam of players are currently tied for third at -10, most notably Rolex Rankings No. 2 Nelly Korda and Frenchwoman Celine Boutier. After a solid 68 on day one that saw her close with three birdies in her last four holes, Korda came out swinging at the Pattaya Old Course on Friday, birdieing the first two holes and then making birdie on Nos. 6 and 7 to turn in 32. Her highlight of the day was a pitch-in eagle on the par-5, 10th, and after driving the green on the par-4, 15th and two-putting for birdie, Korda posted a 6-under, 66 to sit two back of the lead and put herself in a good spot to win the same event her sister Jessica was victorious at in 2018.
“Still 36 holes away from that; lots of birdies away from that, too,” Korda said. “So hopefully I put myself into position after 36 holes and hopefully I have a good weekend, but any time that I can put myself into contention and hopefully battle for the title is super special.”
Boutier is one of just two players in the top 20 to go bogey-free through the first two rounds in Chonburi, Thailand. Like Korda, the LPGA Tour winner backed up an opening 68 with a -6, 66 to sit two back of the lead, carding five birdies in her last seven holes with back-to-back birdies on holes 12 and 13 as well as Nos. 17 and 18. Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen, Korea’s Jenny Shin and Thailand’s Jaravee Boonchant also sit at -10 through two rounds. Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lydia Ko is currently tied for 15th with defending champion Nanna Koerstz Madsen at T64 and +1 overall.