The trades winds didn’t bother Angela Stanford one bit on Thursday at the LPGA LOTTE Championship. Stanford played her way from even par to -8 with a flawless second round to claim the top of the board and start the third round today with a one stroke lead over Michelle Wie. The gusty winds didn’t seem to both Wie or Cristie Kerr either. Wie, at -7 and Kerr, at -6, shot bogey-free second rounds as well and are pushing Stanford hard as they stay on the hunt for a 2014 victory. The trio is paired for the third round and I expect some dynamic competition among them as they play their way around the Ko Olina Golf Club.
Chasing the Top of the Board
With Christie Kerr sharing the third slot on the leaderboard with Inbee Park, Hyo Joo Kim, and So Yeon Ryu, the LOTTE Championship resembles a dress rehearsal for the LPGA International Crown. Park carded a second round 68, two strokes more than Kerr’s 66, but Park’s infamously accurate putting came into play and until she doubled the par 4 17th hole the world’s top-ranked player had a share of the lead. Park’s still very much in the running at the LOTTE Championship, particularly if she can keep her putter working.
This is Hyo Joo Kim’s third appearance at the LOTTE Championship. Kim, who plays on the KLPGA, had an outstanding amateur career. The nineteen-year old is playing some fine golf and seems poised to make a move onto pro golf’s big stage and take a place alongside a growing group of young, dynamic golfers that includes Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Charley Hull, Ariya Jutanugarn and Minjee Lee. With rounds of 68 and 70 carded in very challenging conditions, Kim’s going into the third round at the LOTTE trailing the lead by two strokes and playing alongside two of Korea’s strongest players.
Like Kim, So Yeon Ryu is coming into the third round of the LOTTE having carded rounds of 68 and 70. Rolex ranked No. 7 Ryu had a strong start to the season but then finished well down the board at the Kia Classic and the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Park, Kim and Ryu are paired for the third round today. Park will probably take the lead in this group but let’s see how their synergy works.
Still in the Mix
Below the leaders, nine players are starting the third round within five strokes of Angela Stanford’s lead and with one good round are well within reach of the top of the board. Two Americans particularly merit a good look.
Katie Burnett, who’s playing her second year on the Tour and starting the third round at -4, is looking for her first top-10 Tour finish. This could be it. Burnett, who’s Rolex Ranked number 200, had carded rounds of 71 and 69. She stretched out her drive during the second round and she’s looking comfortable on the course.
Rolex Ranked no. 212 Tiffany Joh is going into the third round at -3 and also playing a game that could put her inside the top-10. Joh’s starting her third year on the Tour. She’s consistently playing the weekends and finished the Kraft Nabisco in a tie for 16th place. I’m going to keep her on my radar during today’s round.
The Jutanugarn sisters, Ariya and Moriya, are going into the third round at -1 and even par, respectively. Both will play on Thailand’s International Crown team in July. Ariya, coming back from a mid-season shoulder injury last year, is showing a steadily improving game that could take her up into the top-10 today.
Gerina Piller is going into the third round at -1, alongside Ariya Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko. Piller, who has a consistently long drive, got a feel for the greens yesterday and her putting improved substantially. I look for her to make a move today. Ko played a bogey-free second round, but it was also almost birdie-free as well. If Ko wants to make a move she needs to make some putts.
Ryan O’Toole looked hopelessly behind going into the second round at five strokes over par, but she carded a 69, got herself to +3 and made the cut. She’ll be playing alongside Paula Creamer, who’s struggling to make par. With rounds of 73 and 74 Creamer’s starting today at +3 and trailing the lead by eleven strokes. Without a miracle or two, Creamer’s going to play for a top-10 finish but at this point the win seems well out of reach for her.
Ai Miyazato, Anna Nordqvist, and Mika Miyazato all missed the cut. None of them could get their game going, but they’ll have another chance at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic next week in San Francisco.
Third Round Tee Times & TV Coverage
The third round tees off at 9:20am local time today, 3:20pm ET. The final group, Stanford, Wie and Kerr, tees off at 11:20 local time, 5:20 ET, and Golf Channel coverage begins at 6:30pm ET.