The Airbus LPGA Classic Presented by JTBC field teed off today under sunny skies with light winds and temperatures in the mid-80s, perfect late spring golf weather at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Magnolia Grove Golf Club in Mobile, Alabama. Scot Catriona Matthew played a brilliant round that included 7 birdies, an eagle on the par-5 13, and a single bogey, carded 64 early in the day, withstood a late afternoon charge by Charley Hull, and has the overnight lead, with Hull trailing by a stroke and Eun-Hee Ji, Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen two strokes back. With half the field starting the second round on Friday within 7 strokes of the lead and ideal scoring conditions, I expect the scramble for the top of the board to get intense.
Within the scramble there are three groups of players that are going to play especially exciting golf. Let’s take a look.
Rolex Ranked no. 2 Stacy Lewis is playing with Karrie Webb, who’s ranked no. 5, and So Yeon Ryu, who’s ranked no. 7. Lewis could move to the top of the world rankings with a victory at Mobile. She made a good start today, carding a 66 and trailing Matthew’s lead by two strokes. Playing partners Webb and Ryu made less impressive starts, Ryu carding a 70 and Webb, with a double bogey, a 71. But Ryu and Webb have the capacity to ramp up their games. Webb in particular is a fantastic come-from-behind competitor. Still, I look for Stacy Lewis to stay out in front and outplay her partners Friday.
Park, who’s been sitting on the top of the world rankings for 58 weeks, is paired with Michelle Wie and Angela Stanford. Stanford finished today at -3, Wie at -1, and Park at +2. Stanford, who’s ranked 15th by Rolex, has three top-10 finishes this year that includes a near miss at the LPGA LOTTE Championship that Michelle Wie won. The real contest in this group will be between Wie and Stanford, and although Stanford outplayed Wie today, if Wie can get her putting sorted out she’ll take control of the Friday round.
Friday promises a tough battle between Rolex Ranked no. 6 Lexi Thompson, no 19 Azahara Munoz and no. 4 Suzann Pettersen. Pettersen played a superb, bogey-free round today, carded 66, and is trailing Catriona Matthew by 2 strokes going into Friday, alongside Stacy Lewis and Eun-Hee Ji. She’s going to be tough to beat. But Munoz, with five top-10 finishes this year and near misses at both the HSBC Women’s Champions and the JTBC Founders Cup, is playing very hot golf and wants a 2014 victory. And Thompson, brimming with self-confidence and slamming drive after drive down the center of the big, broad fairways, will always be a threat. Even though Pettersen’s leading Munoz by 3 strokes and Thompson by 4, I look for Thompson to take control tomorrow and edge the other two out.
The Real Threat
Charley Hull played brilliantly today, carding a bogey-free 65. She’s trailing Matthew’s lead by a single stroke going in to Friday, her drives averaging over 270 yards (10 yards short of Thompson’s). She outputted Thompson by four putts today. Hull’s the one who’s going to put the heat on Catriona Matthew tomorrow.
Play begins Friday at the Airbus LPGA Classic at 7:15am and the last groups tee off at 2:15pm. Golf Channel will pick up coverage of the round in progress at 6:30pm ET, and I’ll provide a wrap-up of the round as well later in the evening.