American Jennifer Kupcho and Bianca Pagdangana of the Philippines also card scores of 65 to move into contention
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South Korean star Sei Young Kim went on a torrid birdie streak Friday at Aronimink, recording 7- birdies in her last 12-holes on her way to a second-round score of 65. The low round of the day, shared with two other players, fired her into solo possession of the lead at -4. To accommodate a full field of players during the reduced daylight of October, Kim started her round on the 10th tee box, making bogeys on holes 11 and 12, before a birdie on 18 left her with a score of +1 as she made the turn onto her last nine. What came next was sensational and flawless golf as Kim completed her second set of nine holes (1 thru 9) in a championship record 29 (-6). One of the highlights on that nine hole stretch included a birdie putt on the par 3 - 5th ( her 14th hole of the day), "the birdie on 14 was pretty good because it was a long birdie putt, and that's when I started the four-birdie streak, so I think that really helped me with momentum and finishing strong." She estimated the putt to be approximately 10 meters or 32 feet.
Even with a reduced number of personnel in the media tent because of Covid safety measures, you could still get a sense of the excitement generated by Kim’s sensational stretch of birdies. Prior to Kim’s round, the top South Korean player for the day had been In Gee Chun, whose two victories on the LPGA came in major tournaments. Indeed, Chun’s play in the last couple of seasons was mediocre by her standards, but she has been working on her game, seeing some improvement in her play this season. Today’s round of 67 propelled her 26 spots into a tie for 11th spot at -1 for the event so far. It was a near flawless round for Chun as she recorded 4 – birdies against 1 – bogey on the par 3, 8th hole and was a welcome sign for her that her game is moving in the right direction.
After the round Chun said that “… at the beginning this week, I felt my shot was great, so I'm glad I got my game back. I trust myself. I had a great round yesterday, as well. It's just I got four putts for only one hole. I tried to keep trust and enjoy playing with my caddie and my friends.”
Sei Young Kim
As for Sei Young Kim, in her post round comments, she indicated that she struggled initially with the wind conditions on the back nine, “the wind fluctuated on the back nine, so I struggled with my iron game, but when we entered the front nine, the wind kind of slowed down and it was kind of easier to attack with my irons. I made a few three-putts, which I regret, but overall I had a good round.”
She also stated that she noticed that the course conditions were changing from the state they were in earlier in the week, “during my practice rounds, the fairways and greens were pretty soft. It firmed up starting yesterday, I remember, so just strategizing to attack the greens. I'd try to land it a little short so I can have some release, but it really helped me out.” If Kim can keep control of her game, keep hitting fairways and greens, she will be hard to beat.
For American Jennifer Kupcho, today’s round of 65 lifted her from 40th position into second place along with Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda and fellow American and past KPMG Women’s PGA Champion, Danielle Kang. Kupcho, the inaugural winner of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and past NCAA champion, her play at this event has been another step in her evolution and development as a professional player. Her round today was flawless, recording 5-birdies and no bogeys; the rest being all pars.
Her textbook play comes on the heels of a second place finish at last week’s Shoprite Classic and before that, a tie for 22nd spot. “Right before ANA I had a couple changes. I changed irons actually as well as changing caddies, and since then it's been really successful, and working on my swing, as well. It's been nice to be able to see success after working so hard.”
Regarding her irons, Kupcho was not comfortable with her set of irons that she had been using as a professional so she decided to switch back to the model that she had been using in her successful collegiate career, a set of Ping i210s, “… I had talked it through with my parents, they actually came up with the idea, and I was like, honestly, I haven't played well since I switched. So I went back to the irons that I was playing with in college, and obviously I picked up right where I left off with them.”
On her decision to change caddies and how it has been working for her, Kupcho explained, “Honestly, it was just time for a change with caddies … I think just from the start we ( Kupcho and her caddie ) were on the same page the whole time. We've continued on the same page. Like it's just different playing majors versus last week obviously was a shootout, so two different strategies going in, and we've been on it with both of them.” Kupcho's stellar play today sets her up nicely for the weekend and if she continues to use her length off of the tee along with her focused and steady play, she should find herself taking another giant step forward in her development as a professional player; she may even be the one standing at the podium on Sunday.
The other player equalling the low round of the day was the Philippine star, Bianca Pagdanganan, member of the 2018 NCAA National Champion Arizona Wildcats. Coming off of a tough first round where Pagdanganan shot a +7 over par 77, she was facing a possible missed cut. She regrouped and rebounded well -- exceptionally well. Her second round 65 resulted in a 12-stroke differential, going from +7 to +2 for the tournament, and well within the cut line. Her round of 65 on Friday catapulted her 89 places, from a T113 into 24th spot (T24) with 12 other players. The only thing longer than her jumping of 89 places is her booming tee shots as she has averaged 283 yards off the tee so far.
Another impressive aspect to Bianca's round today was that she too kept a blemish free scorecard, recording 5 - birdies with 13 pars. Her play today could not have contrasted any more to her round yesterday. Like yesterday, she was 50 % in hitting her fairways off of the tee box, going 7 for 14. Where she made a huge improvement in her play today was hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation while her putting improved from 32 yesterday to 28 today. Her ball striking was markedly improved.
While Pagdanganan is still 6 strokes back from the leader, Sei Young Kim, we have seen her demonstrate today that she has the ability to go low on a major championship course like Aronimink. It will be hard to describe the amount of confidence that she can gain from that experience. After all, it is one thing doing it in college golf; its a totally different scenario to accomplish that in a field with the best women in the world. Once Pagdanganan grows more comfortable with her game and continues developing as a professional player, then she should find herself climbing leaderboards in future.
As for this weekend, if she can keep up the steady play, cope with the nerves of playing on the weekend of one of the biggest major's in women's golf, she could go low enough both days to put her into the top page of the leaderboard.
Tomorrow Tee Times:
Pagdaganan - 8:22 am (1st tee)
Kupcho - 9:50 am (1st tee)
SY Kim - 9:50 am (1st tee)