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USWO Round 2 – Mina Harigae and Minjee Lee co-leaders

Hye Jin Choi’s 64 is Low Round of the Day

 

Overnight leader Mina Harigae picked up where she left off from yesterday, posting a score of 69 to extend her lead to -9 under during today’s morning round at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club. Though Harigae would say that her round today was more stressful than yesterday, she nevertheless finished her round as the clubhouse leader. However, the big news coming out of the morning flight was one of Mina Harigae’s playing partners – Hye Jin Choi and her score of 64, equalling Harigae’s 64 from Thursday. Choi’s round elevated her into second place as the afternoon flights were starting to tee off.

Mina Harigae fully extended during her tee shot
Mina Harigae maintained a share of the lead after Round 2. © USGA/Darren Carroll

Mina Harigae

The 32 year old native of Northern California had been a mid level player in much of her LPGA career, but seems to have recaptured her competitive spirit that characterized her amateur golf. Harigae was a four-time winner of the California Women's Amateur Championship and a winner of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. She has also represented the United States on the Curtis Cup team and the Junior Solheim Cup team. She credits her renewed competitiveness to both a stint playing Cactus tour events during the pandemic and her fiancé for her refocused mental approach.

“I’m hitting a lot more greens now. I’ve always generally been a pretty good driver of the golf ball, but it’s my irons that have really taken care of where I’m going with my game. Putting too – I’ve been making a lot more putts. I’m way more confident with it.”

“I went back to my old swing coach that knows me best. I met my fiancé, Travis. He has a great killer athlete mentality. He kind of brought me back to how I was in my amateur golf days. More of that kind of mentality.”

Despite concerns that she had a bit more trouble with today’s round, she still comfortably recorded a 69 (-2 under), to move her to -9 under for the tournament. This marks the second time in 12 months that Harigae finds herself with a share of the lead heading into Saturday, previously having accomplished it at the 2021 AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie. She will tee off in the final pairing on Saturday with Minjee Lee, a major champion (2021 Amundi Evian Championship).

 
Minjee Lee playing her tee shot in the Second round
Minjee Lee, winner of the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship is looking to add her second major championship to her resume. © USGA/Darren Carroll
 

Minjee Lee

Prior to last season’s win at the Evian event, Minjee Lee was one of the best players on the LPGA to have not won a major. Now that she has shed that moniker, learning from the experience and gaining confidence that it engenders, Minjee Lee should be a factor over the next couple of days as she chases a second major win. Her status as a favourite to win is shared by others. The USGA has identified Lee as the favourite to win entering play on Saturday, listing her as having a 33.40% probability of winning. (1) New to the 2022 championship, the USGA has added a feature to its app, determining the probability of winning, and Lee had the best odds before play resumes on Saturday.

Lee has had a very solid year, ranking 3rd on tour for Strokes Gained overall, gaining on average 2.26 strokes over the field, good enough for the 2nd best on Tour among players with a minimum of 20 rounds this season. She continues that fine play this week at Pine Needles, where she finished Friday’s round averaging +7.26 total strokes gained (SG) over the rest of the field. Only Hye Jin Choi finished higher on the strength of her low round of 64. Perhaps the biggest advantage that she has entering Saturday is prowess with the putter. While the greens at Pine Needles have yet to firm up because of the rain over the past few days, they remain very tricky and difficult, incorporating multiple elevations and slopes along with a speed measuring near 12 on the stimpmeter. On the greens, she averaged +4.56 strokes gained on Friday and +3.03 on Thursday with her putter.

Her round of 66 included 6-birdies against one bogey including some very solid play around the greens, saving par on the 4-greens missed.

“I started pretty solid with two birdied to start so that was nice. I had a string of pars until maybe 8 and 9, which were really good – both of them were really nice birdies. Then I bogeyed one hole on the back nine, made a really good up-and-down on the 17th and finished my round 5-under today, so pretty solid overall.”

Minjee tees off in the last pairing with Mina Harigae at 1:44 p.m. (Eastern).

Hye Jin Choi

She nearly won the U.S. Women’s Open as a teenaged amateur in 2017, finishing second to Sung Hyun Park. She has amassed 12 victories worldwide including 11 on the KLPGA, and she has continued her fine play this week with Friday’s round being the highlight thus far. Playing alongside Mina Harigae the past two days, her score of 64 tied the low round of the week recorded by Harigae on Thursday, vaulting her into second spot after the morning session before Minjee Lee surpassed her in the afternoon.

Korean player Hye Jin Choi watching her tee shot
LPGA Rookie Hye Jin Choi is already a seasoned veteran of the U.S. Women's Open championship. © USGA/Darren Carroll

Choi’s play was dominant. She recorded 9 – birdies on the day with 2 – bogeys, going out in 30 (-5 under) before “stumbling” slightly with her bogies occurring on the second nine, while coming in at 34 (-2 under). Naturally, Choi’s play has elevated her to the top of the Strokes Gained categories, as she finished her round with a +9.26 total strokes gained over the field – the best on the day. Her performance on the greens was the best element to her round, as she finished with 26 – putts, good for a +4.82 SG over the field and third overall on the day, behind only amateur Bailey Shoemaker and Japanese pro, Yuna Takagi.

“I had a chance to do birdies yesterday, but I think my putting was much better today, and also thanks to the rain I think the green was working for me. And so I think that’s hoe I was able to attack birdies.”

As she enters Saturday’s play, Choi is very aware of where her biggest challenges are as she attempts to get off to a good start.

“I think some of the challenges is when I miss the green, it is very difficult to play around (the green) because the grade is rather steep, so I think that when I miss the green, I need to do my best to save it.”

The USGA probability app pegs Hye Jin Choi’s odds to win at 10.25% the fourth best behind Minjee Lee, Jin Young Ko, and Mina Harigae. (1) Choi tees it up in the penultimate group along with Anna Nordqvist at 1:33 p.m.

 

1. At the time of writing. The odds will fluctuate throughout the day.

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