The sticks were swinging and the balls were flying today at Mission Hills and dreams of Sunday and Poppy’s Pond were swirling like a persistent mist over the fairways. It was a grand day for golf. There was sun, there was wind, then there was no wind on a course framed by a spectacular backdrop. Yesterday’s leader, Shanshan Feng, fought a recalcitrant ball and ended her round with a pair of bogeys and a befuddled shake of her head, dropping from her first place starting place to sharing the fourth slot on the board with Cristie Kerr. In her place, Lexi Thompson and Se Ri Pak will lead the field into the weekend at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but their lead is slim and they do not lack for challengers.
The Leaders: Youth vs Experience
Lexi Thompson came off the first tee looking every inch the young champion she can be, shot a sizzling, bogey-free round of 64, eclipsing her first round 73, and walked off the 18th green with a share of the lead. Thompson’s on the hunt for her first win this season and her 4th career victory.
World Golf Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, with 25 LPGA Tour victories and 120 top-10 finishes to her credit, delivered a precise, carefully controlled round, carded 70, and joined Thompson at the top of the board.
The endlessly exuberant Thompson and the steady, consistent Pak, who’s carded rounds of 76 and 70, go into the weekend at -7, with a single stroke lead over Michelle Wie, their closest challenger.
Chasing the Lead
Rolex Ranked number 38, Michelle Wie went into the second round chasing Shanshan Feng’s lead and she’ll go into the weekend chasing Thompson and Pak. Wie’s playing strong, focused, determined, and at times inspired golf. Her putting today was less precise than it was on Thursday, but her overall game remains strong and determined. Wie wants this victory. Winless since her 2010 victory at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, clearly comfortable now with her innovative putting style, Wie remains a threat going into the weekend.
No less determined than Wie and bringing substantial experience to the Kraft Nabisco, Rolex Ranked number 12 Cristie Kerr will go into the weekend at -5, trailing the leaders by 2 strokes. Playing a confident and aggressive game, Kerr appears fully committed to taking the lead and claiming the win on Sunday.
Trailing by only 3 strokes, Anna Nordqvist, Catriona Matthew, and Morgan Pressel go into the weekend still very much in contention. Pressel’s a Kraft Nabisco champion (2007), Nordqvist brings two 2014 victories to the table (Honda LPGA Thailand and Kia Classic) and Matthew, a veteran Tour player and quintessential competitor, all know what it’s going to take to end up at the top of the board on Sunday.
Still in Contention
Defending champion and Rolex Ranked number 1 Inbee Park will go into the weekend at even par. Although her putting improved a bit today, she’s still not in control of the putting surface, but that problem can turn around overnight. Trailing Thompson and Pak, who is Park’s hero, by 7 shots, Park will have fire off an impressive string of birdies tomorrow to close the distance.
Rolex Ranked number 3 Stacy Lewis, with rounds of 73 and 70, doesn’t quite seem to have her game in synch, although she executed some brilliant shots today. Still, Lewis is in good company going into the weekend at -1, alongside Karrie Webb, Aussie amateur Minjee Lee, and Lydia Ko, among others.
Charley Hull, who spent some time on the practice range after her round polishing a drive that’s been described as a demonstration of “controlled violence,” and Azahara Munoz, who’s been playing a strong game and is looking good for a win soon, are both at -2, trailing Thompson and Pak by a mere 5 strokes. Either one of them could tee off hot on Saturday and close the gap to the top.
At the mid-point in the tournament, the upper tier of the board is packed tightly with players who want this victory and are capable to grabbing it. This is still a very open contest.
At +2, Paula Creamer made the cut and in the process she also tied Tiger Wood’s record of making 27 consecutive cuts in major events. The persistent and plucky Jenny Suh, who’s trying to earn back her Tour card by playing Monday qualifiers, missed the cut, as did Danish rookie Line Vedel, who played solo Thursday and Friday rounds at the Kraft Nabisco, and Beatriz Recari, who can’t seem to get her game started this season.
Saturday will be another lovely day for golf at the Mission Hills Golf Club, with temperatures in the low 80s and light winds that are expected to increase in the late afternoon. Tee times begin at 8am local time, with Thompson and Pak, the final group, teeing off at 1:55 local time.
Four hours of Golf Channel coverage begins at 5pm, ET, and I’ll provide a wrap-up of the day’s round as well.