Barrington, R.I. – Lydia Ko of New Zealand made eight birdies Tuesday morning on her way to a 5-under-par 66 and a 36-hole total of 7-under-par 136 to lead early finishers for stroke-play medalist honors at the 6,399-yard, par-71 Rhode Island Country Club.
The 14-year-old combined the 66 with an opening 70 to lead Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand by one stroke. Jutanugarn, 17, combined scores of 70-67 for a 137 total.
Emma Talley of Princeton, Ky., and Casey Grice of College Station, Texas, are the leading Americans. Talley carded a 68 for a 36-hole total of 4-under 138, a stroke ahead of Grice, who posted a 67 on Tuesday..
The remaining half of the 156 players had afternoon starting times, including first-round leader Jihee Kim of Korea.
The low 64 players following Tuesday’s final stroke-play round advance to match play, which begins Wednesday and ends with a 36-hole final on Sunday for the national title.
Little-known outside of New Zeland, Ko has won enough to gain notice from the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, supported by The R&A and the USGA, which ranks her No. 1among female amateurs. Her breakthrough came in April when she claimed her country’s two amateur titles in the same week. She won the New Zealand Stroke Play title by 11 strokes and then captured the Match Play Championship with a 4-and-3 win over Cecilia Cho, the world’s No. 2-ranked amateur.
Ko’s round began on the inward nine and she went one over par after four holes before her torrid birdie streak. She birdied the 15th with a 20-foot putt and the 16th from just over 4 feet. A 10-foot putt on the 18th produced another birdie and she turned in 2-under-par 33.
After a birdie at the first hole from kick-in range, she bogeyed the third hole and then charged home with four straight birdies from the fourth through the seventh holes.
I didn’t get my putts rolling until the 15th, Ko said, and then giggled, It’s my weakness.
Of her four-birdie streak she said, After I made two birdies, I said to myself, ‘Make par, make par,’ then I had another opportunity on No. 6 and I made it. On the seventh, I had 36 feet and I wasn’t really expecting to make it, but I did.
Jutanugarn, the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, was more than pleased with her 67. I didn’t have a bogey, said Moriya, whose sister, Ariya, won the U.S. Girls’ Junior two weeks ago. This makes me feel good.
Jutanugarn used her putter to save pars on a number of holes. Teeing off on No. 10, she made her first birdie at the 14th hole with a 6-foot putt, then birdied the fifth hole from three feet and the sixth hole from 10 feet. Her last birdie was a tap-in on the par-5 eighth hole.
An all-around athlete, Jutanugarn used swimming to increase her strength, swimming as many as 2,000 meters a day. It makes you not really tired when you play golf, she said of the training.
For Ko, this is her first U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and she will focus on the upcoming match-play rounds by thinking of past success.
I’ll be thinking about the New Zealand Amateur, because I played pretty solid then, Ko said.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. For questions or comments, e-mail her at email@example.com.