NAPLES, Fla. — LPGA Tour rookie Rose Zhang is making her CME Group Tour Championship debut this week at Tiburón Golf Club, and after opening with a 1-under 71 that saw her make a double bogey on her first hole of the day, the 20-year-old recovered, recording a 6-under 66 on Friday that saw her make two bogeys and eight birdies.
Zhang got off to a fast start, picking up a pair of back-to-back birdies on holes 2 and 3. She erased those efforts with bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5 but regained her footing with a birdie on the par-5 6th hole, and parred holes 7 and 8 before making birdie on the par-4 9th hole to turn in 34. Her next birdie came on 11, moving Zhang to 4-under overall, and she grabbed another one on 13 to get to 5-under. Zhang’s last two birdies of the day came on the par-4 15th and par-3 16th holes, and her 66 vaulted her from T41 into the top 20 with 36 holes still to play at the season finale.
The 66 ties her second-lowest career round on the LPGA Tour and is her lowest career second-round score on the LPGA Tour, besting her previous benchmark of 68 by two shots. This is the third consecutive event that has seen Zhang open with two under-par rounds, and the Stanford University standout was proud of her ability to quickly turn the page after a challenging start to her week at the CME Group Tour Championship.
“You always have to think that you're never out of it when you're playing out here,” said Zhang, whose first-round 71 was her highest opening score since day one of the BMW Ladies Championship. “You're playing so many rounds and you can't put emphasis on every round you play. It's important to learn from them, the shots that you didn't hit well, and kind of improve from there. But other than that, every day is a new day. You should manage to fix whatever you can and go out and stay confident.”
This week marks the 14th and final start of Zhang’s rookie season, which began after she accepted immediate LPGA Tour membership following her win in her professional debut at the Mizuho Americas Open. After that victory, Zhang recorded three additional top-10 finishes in her next four starts, all of which were in major championships, and it looked like more wins were on the horizon for the young superstar. But she cooled over the summer and stayed cool well into the fall, finally finding the top 10 once again at the Maybank Championship, where Zhang finished in a tie for third.
By anyone else’s standards, that would be a plenty good enough rookie campaign to hang your hat on. But not for Zhang. Ahead of the CME Group Tour Championship, she was asked to give her rookie season a grade. She gave herself a B.
One has to wonder if she’d bump that up to an A with another solid finish this week, but Zhang isn’t ready to reflect just yet. She focused on making a run over the weekend and giving herself an opportunity to add another accolade to her already impressive resume – Race to the CME Globe champion.
“There are a lot of positives from today,” said Zhang. “There are also a couple of things that I do want to work on, so going into tomorrow and the day after, it's just building on the positives and giving myself opportunities from tee to green, and then making sure that my short game is well-conditioned. That's all I'm really thinking about. Everyone else is playing spectacular. When you're out there you really just have to stay confident.”