THE COLONY – The low round of The Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America thus far belongs to Charley Hull. The 26-year-old fired a 7-under 64 on Friday at Old American Golf Club to tie the tournament’s 36-hole scoring record of 131. The record was first set in 2018 by Sung Hyun Park, who went on to win the event. For Hull, the key to her second-round success was her performance on the greens as she needed just 24 putts to tie her career-low round on the LPGA Tour.
“I feel like the putter was very strong today. When I was home, I was working quite hard on my putting because I felt like that’s the (most boring) part of the game to practice. I don’t practice it as much as I should,” said Hull, slightly surprised with her putting success. “I can’t really read the grain because I don’t see very well in shades and colors and stuff, so I cannot read the grain. I get my caddie to tell me where the grain is, and I read my putt from there. I’m doing surprisingly well.”
Trailing two strokes behind the Englishwoman is two-time LPGA champion Atthaya Thitikul and first-round leader Xiyu Lin. Playing in her first Ascendant LPGA, 2022 rookie Thitkul was worried that she wouldn’t play well this week after seeing Old American in her pre-tournament practice rounds. That worry now seems unnecessary as the Thai golfer hit 13 of 13 fairways in round two to get herself near the top of the leaderboard heading into Moving Day. Thitikul held the second-round lead at last week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G before going on to win the title. Now, Thitikul is leaning on her exceptional course management skills to continue her hot streak on a difficult course.
“Before the first round, I just told myself and my manager, my caddie, that making the cut is good enough for me here on this course because it’s challenging for me as well,” Thitikul said. “Golf is challenging because you change the course every week and then you have to adjust yourself to the course every week as well. I said before, I don’t really suit this course. But I just kept (not thinking) too much on the course. That why I can play well these two days.”
Lin, on the other hand, loves the challenge of Old American thanks to the strength of her long game and her “hot” putting. The 26-year-old hit 11 of 13 fairways and 13 of 18 greens on Friday, working to avoid the fairway bunkers that gave her trouble during the first round. Lin needed 28 putts, including eight one-putts, to record four birdies and one bogey during round two. After her -6 performance on Thursday, Lin held the first-round lead for the third time this season, with the last time being at the 2022 Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G where she ultimately finished second. With her confidence high going into the weekend, Lin hopes to better that result and earn her first victory, becoming just the second player from the People’s Republic of China to win on the LPGA Tour.
“I have lots of confidence in my long game and my driving and my irons so I think on the tougher days I can manage really well to just change the strategy and play little safer,” Lin said. “And recently my putting been pretty hot, too, so even from little further away I can roll in a couple putt. So I will do the same. At the tough holes I try to stay patient, and then at the par-5s try to make a little more birdie and try to hit it a little closer and try to roll some putts.”
Making her seventh appearance in this event, American Lindy Duncan sits in solo fourth at -8 after carding a bogey-free 65 on Friday. Like Lin, she is also looking to capture her first LPGA win and improve upon the career-best solo second finish she earned at Old American in 2018. Trailing one stroke behind Duncan in a tie for fifth are two-time Tour champion Moriya Jutanugarn, Danish golfer Emily Pedersen and six-time winner Jessica Korda, whose -5 was the lowest score from the late wave. Friday’s afternoon groupings dealt with very tricky conditions when they teed it up on Thursday morning, battling nearly 20 mph winds that led to higher scores.
“I think you can obviously tell that we were on the wrong side of the wave,” Korda laughed. “Even based on where the cut line is versus the leader; you don’t really see gaps this big that often. It is what it is. You’re just trying to put together the best score that you can and ignore everything else.”
Eighty players made the cut at +3, including Texans Cheyenne Knight, Lindsey-Weaver Wright and Stacy Lewis, who won the event in 2014. Eleven 2022 LPGA Champions, most notably Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson and Ashleigh Buhai, will also be teeing it up this weekend, along with sponsor exemption and Texas resident Bailey Shoemaker (a), who survived the cut with a two-day total of +2.