U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Round 2: Five Things to Watch
June 1, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala.
By Joey Flyntz and Scott Lipsky, USGA
Round 1 of the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship is in the books. Despite heavy rainfall that pelted Shoal Creek leading into Thursday’s first round, the course held up and play started on time. The leader board features some of the usual suspects as well as some surprises. Things can change rapidly on the second day of a major championship. Here are five things to watch in Friday’s second round as the cut line looms:
Can 2017 Contenders Bounce Back?
Jeongeun6 Lee was an intriguing figure during the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, not just because of the unusual presence of a numeral in her name, but because of her strong play, which resulted in a tie for fifth. She continued her strong play on Thursday with a 5-under 67, tying her for the 18-hole lead.
Most of Lee’s fellow contenders from a year ago can’t say the same. Of those who finished in the top 10 in 2017, seven players are over par heading into Friday, and a few of the key players down the stretch will have to fight to make it to the weekend. Reigning champion Sung Hyun Park, who also tied for third in 2016, turned in a 4-over 76 to start her title defense, with a pair of double bogeys canceling out the four birdies on her card. Shanshan Feng, last year’s 54-hole leader, didn’t have a circle on her card on Thursday, shooting 6-over 78. The struggles were unexpected from the No. 4 and No. 2 player, respectively, in the world who were the talk of last year’s championship.
Rain, Rain, It Finally Went Away
More than 4.5 inches of rain pelted Shoal Creek from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday morning, forcing the cancellation of Tuesday practice rounds. Fortunately, the sun came out Wednesday afternoon, helping the drying process. Combined with the tireless efforts of Shoal Creek superintendent Rex Davis and staff, volunteers and the USGA’s championship agronomy staff, the course was ready for play on time at 6:40 a.m. CDT Thursday.
A rain-free, sunny Thursday continued to improve playing conditions throughout the day. The impressive turnaround was appreciated by players.
“I only had one shot where it had a little mud on it,” said Sarah Jane Smith, who is tied for the lead after a 5-under 67. “The course is incredibly dry. The greens are amazing. They are rolling beautifully. The work that they have done to get it ready is incredible.”
Another Amateur Run for the Ages?
Hye-Jin Choi, of the Republic of Korea, came awfully close to making history in 2017, with a double bogey on the 70th hole of the U.S. Women’s Open standing in her way of perhaps becoming the first amateur in 50 years, and second all time, to win the championship. Choi has since turned professional and is now ranked No. 11 in the world. Heading into Friday, three competitors with the (a) next to their names are in the top 10, with Sweden’s Linn Grant leading the way with a 3-under 69.
Grant, 18, is making her Women’s Open debut, showed no signs of nerves on Thursday, carding six birdies during her round. She’s joined toward the top of the leader board by Kristen Gillman and Patty Tavatanakit, both of whom posted 2-under 70 on Thursday. Gillman, 20, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, missed the cut in her Women’s Open debut in 2015, while Tavatanakit, 18, is making her debut this week.
“It’s definitely cool seeing your name on the leader board,” said Gillman, who plays for the University of Alabama. “There’s still a lot of golf left, so you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”
Tied atop the leader board at 5-under 67 is an unexpected name who brought a lot of game on Thursday. After an even-par showing on the outward nine, Sarah Jane Smith, of Australia, caught fire on the way in, beginning with a hole-out eagle on the par-5 11th. She added birdies on 13, 14 and 17.
Few could have seen that performance coming, considering Smith has never held the lead after any round in a major championship. She arrived at Shoal Creek having missed the cut in five of her past six LPGA Tour events.
So, how will she handle playing from the top? Don’t ask her.
“I’ve never had the lead, so I’ll have to find that out, I guess,” said Smith. “I would much rather be playing well than not. I’m happy to deal with that [on Friday].”
Fours on the Fives
The par 5s are almost always going to represent the best scoring opportunities for players, especially in a U.S. Women’s Open, but that played out in extreme fashion on Thursday. The four par 5s at Shoal Creek played as the four easiest holes in relation to par.
The 475-yard sixth hole played as the easiest, yielding 45 birdies and three eagles for a 4.81 stroke average. The 505-yard third (4.84) was the second-easiest, followed by the 522-yard 11th (4.88) and the 533-yard 17th (4.91).
With another dry day in the forecast, the par 5s figure to show a little more teeth going forward.