June 20th, 2024

Thitikul shoots 65 for 2-shot lead at Mizuho Americas Open; world No. 1 Nelly Korda lurking 3 back

By Tom Canavan, The Associated Press on May 17, 2024.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) – Rising star Atthaya Thitikul birdied five of the final seven holes in a round of 7-under 65 to grab the halfway lead in the Mihuho Americas Open on Friday, with top-ranked Nelly Korda in contention one week after having her LPGA record-tying five tournament winning streak halted.

Thitikul, who is playing in her third event this year because of an injury to her left thumb, had a bogey-free round at Liberty National while playing in a group that included Korda and Ayaka Furue of Japan.

The 21-year-old from Thailand, who was last year’s winner of the Rolex Vare Award for lowest scoring average, was two shots ahead of first-round leader So Mi Lee of South Korea and three in front of Korda, Mao Saigo of Japan, fellow Thai Ariya Jutanugarn and rookie Gabriela Ruffels of Australia.

Another large group was four shots back, including Jutarugarn’s sister, Moriya. Americans Andrea Lee and Megan Khang and Furue also were at 5 under in the event that lost defending champion Rose Zhang after three holes to an intestinal problem.

“When I can came here, play in Chevron, be able to play golf again, it’s like — it’s just like click, and change my mind,” Thitikul said. “Just be able to play golf it’s good enough for me. It’s just go enjoy. Just do the best that you can do out there.”

Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., was seven shots off the lead after turning in a 69 on Friday. Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke Que., was 1 under after two rounds.

Thitikul, who has two LPGA career wins in 2022 and already pocketed $3.85 million in career earnings, finished 12th in the Chevron and missed the cut by a stroke in the Cognizant Founders Cup last week.

She switched putters this week and it clicked in the second round. It could have been better, too. A long birdie putt at No. 18 lipped out.

“I played with Atthaya today and my round felt like poop compared to hers,” said Korda, who shot a 68, two shots better than her opening round. “She’s playing phenomenal golf the past two days. I’m happy to be in it; three back at the halfway point, but hopefully I can give it my best.”

In her recent winning streak that Zhang snapped last week, Korda trailed by five shots at the Seri Pak Championship, by four at the Ford Championship and six strokes in the T-Mobile Match Play, where the field was cut after the third round. She won them all.

“If you’re not hitting it well and not giving your self chances, you’re never going to capitalize on this,” Korda said. “Hopefully everything is flowing for me. Going to go practice a little now after my round and try to get things a little bit more dialed in for the weekend.”

Lee (66) and Saigo (68) were Thursday additions to the field because of late withdrawals. They found themselves at the top of the leaderboard after 18 and were still there Friday. Lee had a 71, one shot more than Saigo.

The most interesting part of Lee’s round was a change of caddies. After attending his son’s graduation from elementary in Orlando, Fla., regular caddie Andrew Tomasi arrived late Thursday and took over the bag from Lee’s father, Tohyeun.

Lee, a five-time winner on the Korean LPGA, laughed when asked if she fired her father.

“My father said: “˜It’s over. My first and my last. My last caddie ever,”’ Lee said in comments translated by her manager. “He was very tired.”

Late in the second round, LPGA officials issued a statement expressing their concern about health issues at the event after 10 players withdrew over the past two days, including seven with various illnesses.

“Medical professionals on site have treated several athletes for symptoms related to a viral infection,” the organization’s statement said. “The LPGA and tournament organizers continue to monitor the situation closely, and are working together to advise and assist the LPGA athletes with precautions to try to keep everyone healthy.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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