Saturday, March 6, 2021
In each of the first two rounds at the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik, Jennifer Kupcho and Austin Ernst have fired matching 67's to reach 10-under par and hold a two-stroke advantage heading into the weekend at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.
While Kupcho managed a bogey-free performance in round one, Ernst was the one to return the favor today.
“Fairways were a little more bouncy this afternoon so I had a few more wedges in,” said Ernst, who hit 15 greens. “With how firm the greens are, you really have to take advantage if you get quite a few wedge opportunities. I have driven it well, too.”
Even with one bogey on the card, Kupcho was just grateful a migraine did not rear its ugly head and that she made it around 18 holes pain-free on Friday.
“Felt a lot better today. Yesterday was pretty rough,” said Kupcho, who recorded six birdies. “I’ve been in contention out here before, so just go out, relax and have fun. I think especially with my new caddie [Patrick Smith] this year we do a good job of having fun and relaxing. I think it’ll be a fun weekend.”
Carlota Ciganda fired the round of the day with a bogey-free, 7-under par 65 out of the morning wave. It is no coincidence that she is finding success with a familiar face back on the bag in Terry McNamara, the long-time caddie for LPGA Tour legend and World Golf Hall of Fame member Annika Sorenstam.
“We had a great four years together and with COVID last year, I think he wanted to take a little break,” said Ciganda, who is 8-under overall. “I always enjoy working with him. He’s very peaceful, experienced, very calm. That is what I need on the course.”
Last week’s Gainbridge LPGA champion Nelly Korda is solo fourth at -7 following a steady 2-under 70 on day two, highlighted by three birdies. Rounding out the top-five is 2019 Symetra Tour graduate Jenny Coleman. The University of Colorado alumna carded a 3-under 69 to reach -5 overall.
“The biggest part of this golf course is the greens,” Korda said. “There have been lower scores in the morning because they’re fresh and they do get bumpy in the afternoon. Greens are playing a big part in the scores, so just going to stay positive. Everyone is going to be playing through weather.”
Five players are tied for sixth at -4 including rookies Patty Tavatanakit and Leona Maguire. A total of 71 players made the cut of +2 including the LPGA Drive On Championship—Inverness winner Danielle Kang (-2) and the LPGA Drive On Championship—Reynolds Lake Oconee champion Ally Ewing (E).
Making the cut but with a lot of work to do today are Lydia Ko (69-72-141, 3 under); and Cristie Kerr, Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson, all at 1 under. Stacy Lewis, Laura Davies, Anna Nordqvist and Jessica Korda are at even par. The cut came at plus 2, and missing it were Gators Sandra Gal (plus 3), and Maria Torres (plus 5), along with Brittany Lincicome (plus 5).
EXPERIENCED ERNST READY FOR NEW ROAD
Few things focus the mind and heighten the senses like a treacherous road never traveled, even if you’ve driven down curling paths before.
Ernst has won twice in her eight-year career on the LPGA Tour. She will almost certainly pass the $4 million mark in career earnings by the summer. And she has hit quality shots under pressure on a winning U.S. Solheim Cup team. As pressure situations go, she’s been there, plenty. But there is one road Ernst has never traveled. She has never led or shared the lead after the second round of an LPGA Tour event. She’s only led after the third round once, and that was because one of her victories, the 2020 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G, was a 54-hole event.
“Actually, I didn’t know that,” Ernst said with a big smile after shooting her second consecutive 67. “But I think it's the same (approach) that I took from yesterday going into today. Obviously, I started today with a lead and I saw Carlota shot 7-under (65) so you knew there were birdies out there.”
She made five birdies with no bogeys on Friday, relying on exceptional ball-striking. In her shot-by-shot recap of the round, the birdie putts she listed ranged in length from two to 20 feet. “Probably made two putts over 25 feet yesterday and today, couldn't quite get the putter working early,” she said. “But I had a lot of really good looks inside 15 feet. I hit good putts and my speed was good all day. So, I had a lot of easy pars. It's nice when you give yourself a lot of good looks and come away making a few of them.”
Ernst knows the course well from her two Coates Championship forays in 2015 and 2016, at which she was serenaded by the fans on the first tee on Jan. 31, her birthday.
“Pretty much every hole I hit it close, I hit a wedge of some sort,” she said of her course management. “So, you really kind of need to be aggressive off the tee to be able to get those numbers. Then you kind of know there are some holes that it's just so hard to hold the green. Some of the par-3s, No. 11, for example, with the pin in the middle was almost impossible to get it to stay on the green.
“When I knew I didn't have a good number or a full number or as much green to work with, I placed it in a good spot just over the green or on the right side of the green, a place where I still had a look at birdie and I didn't have to work very hard.”
EARLY WAKE-UP CALL JOLTS SLEEPY CIGANDA TO 7-UNDER 65
She is the first to admit that she is not an early riser and when her alarm went off Friday morning at 5 a.m., Ciganda would normally want to press snooze. But today was different.
“I’m Spanish, so Spanish people like to sleep in and start the day a little later than a 7:38 tee time,” said Ciganda, who hit 16 greens en route to a bogey-free, 7-under 65. “Just have to do what you have to do. I was pretty awake today. Had a nice dinner, slept good and was ready to go.”
To add the relaxed state of play for Ciganda, she was paired with Dame Laura Davies. She not only looks up to the four-time major champion and 20-time winner as a professional, but admires Davies’ creativity.
“I love playing with her. Her talent is unbelievable, like everything she does with her different shots. Lots of imagination,” Ciganda said. “I think she can hit shots no one out here can hit, so I have a lot of respect and I think she’s just so good for the Tour. She shot 3-under, no bogeys. It’s just pure talent.
PLAYERS PAY TRIBUTE TO EIGHT TRIBUTE HOLES
Golden Ocala features its eight tribute holes, replicas of well-known holes from historic courses around the world. They include No. 4 (the “Postage Stamp” at Royal Troon, No. 8), No. 5 (Muirfield No. 9), No. 6 (Augusta National No. 16), No. 11 (Augusta National No. 12), No. 12 (Augusta National No. 13), No. 13 (Old Course at St. Andrews No. 17), No. 14 (Old Course at St. Andrews No. 1) and No. 15 (Baltusrol No 4). LPGA Tour players find them enjoyable because of how familiar they feel.
“The Postage Stamp, it was actually really funny,” Nelly Korda said of the Royal Troon tribute par-3. “We played (Troon) last year. I did not hit that green once at (AIG Women’s Open) and was probably in every bunker possible. I've never actually really been out to Augusta and I've never played St. Andrews,” Korda said. “Someday I'll go to those golf courses and be like, ‘Oh, this is a replica of Ocala.’”
Davies’ favorite is the 11th, a near perfect design replica of the par-3 12th at Augusta National, sans the bentgrass greens and Augusta Country Club in the background.
“I think 11 for us, the 12th at Augusta, it's so lifelike,” Davies said. “I've only stood on it once playing. I've stood there many a time watching the guys, but it is so similar it's frightening. It's very frightening actually.”
Co-leader Ernst said of the holes, “They did a really good job with a few of them. This is my third time coming here, but think 11 and 12 out here, which are 12 and 13 at Augusta, I've never played Augusta, but they at least look like it. I've asked a couple girls that played the Augusta National Women's Amateur and they said the only difference is 13 at Augusta, the green's a little bit more severe than 12 here.”
Kupcho was one of those women who played at Augusta National. Posting back-to-back 67’s, Kupcho found herself feeling slightly different than the other players. “They are very similar and the look is definitely very similar,” Kupcho said. “But I think I'm more nervous playing them now than I was (playing the originals) back then.”
CONNERS LEADS AT BAY HILL:
The beat goes on. The leaders of the Arnold Palmer Invitational after 36 holes no doubt wouldn't be recognized by anybody but their families and friends, and that's the way it has been for months on the PGA Tour.
Corey Conners leads with rounds of 66-69-135, 9 under par over the Bay Hill course in Windermere, one stroke ahead of Martin Laird (69-67-136). One of the main differences this time is there are a slew of big guns who have their sights set squarely on the top.
Tied for third at 7 under are Rory McIlroy, who faltered with a Friday 71 after an opening 66; Viktor Hovland, who has taken the Tour by storm, and Lanto Griffin, who has been contending every week during this wrap-around season. Bryson DeChambeau is next at 6 under and Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Sungjae Im are all in range at 5 under.
Low round of the day went to the headline writers' nightmare, Jazz Janewattananond, who shot 7-under 65 after opening with 75. At 4-under 140, he made the cut of plus 2 with ease. Tyrell Hatton also showed up Friday with a 5-under 67, 10 strokes better than his Thursday effort, and is at even par.
Missing the cut were Patrick Reed (+3), Henrik Stenson (+4), and the entire group of UF players, Billy Horschel (74-75), Camilo Villegas (81-70), Matt Every (76-76) and Brian Gay (78-74). It's been a bad week for Gators.
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