by Mark Hayes & Martin Blake
If you’re feeling a little long in the tooth, it’s best not to look at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open leader board. The top four heading into weekend battle have a combined age of just 76 and the oldest just 22.
And while world No.1 Lydia Ko will justifiably hog the headlines, it’s a talented trio around her with boom Thai Ariya Jutanugarn and Korean world No.20 Ha-Na Jang locked alongside the New Zealander at six under par.
And with English 18-year-old sensation Charley Hull outright fourth at four under, it’s a new wave that appears set to rule Royal Melbourne.
Jang’s 69 was the only sub-70 round on a day when mothernature and the toughening Composite Course took a toll on the competitors.
With an average score of 76.4, rounds took almost six hours to complete after early-morning fog delays.
Ko was spectacular in parts, firing an imperious eagle on the par-four 15th by holing out with a nine-iron from 124m. But the occasional bogey kept the chasing pack in the mix.
Remarkably, only once – the 2012 Canadian Women’s Open – has Ko held or shared the lead after the first two rounds and gone on to win.
Jang, a multiple winner in Asia, is already making her mark in her maiden LPGA Tour season, riding a very simple game plan that gave up just two bogeys.
“I think only very simple thinking, fairway and green and then two putts and that’s it, no more thinking,” Jang said.
Jutanugarn three-putted the first hole, but ignited her round with a long eagle on the par-five 10th to shoot a 71 before promising tomorrow’s big occasion wouldn’t alter her game plan.“No, I’ll just enjoy it and have fun. (It’s) why we play,” she said.
Of the Australians, Queenslander Katherine Kirk is best placed to strike, tied for eighth at one under despite missing several makeable chances with the blade late in her round.
Perth’s Minjee Lee made a solid move, firing a two-under-par 71 to slide into the top 20 in just her third tournament as an LPGA professional.
But the biggest local news was that of Karrie Webb’s battle to make the cut. The world No.9 made a par up the last to shore up her weekend berth, although she’s 11 shots from the lead and with her title defence in doubt.
“It’s actually hard to get in there and fully trust what you’re doing when you do hit a good shot and it goes over the back,” Webb said after her round.
“But I need to do that more. At this stage I’m not thinking about a result; I’m thinking about bringing on to the course what I’m doing in practice.”
Comeback queen Rachel Hetherington also made the cut on the number with a par on the last to finish over.
Among those who missed out were past winners Yani Tseng and Dame Laura Davies while Aussies Sarah Jane Smith, Stacey Keating and last weekend’s RACV Ladies Masters winner Su Oh will all get a sleep-in.
The third round begins on Royal Melbourne’s famous Composite Course at 7.45am on Saturday morning. The final group, featuring Lydia Ko and Ha-Na Jang will be off at 1.45pm.