Ko in full flight today – photo USGA Simon Bruty
Lydia Ko has taken over as the leading Australasian at the US Women’s Open at the Champions Golf Club in Houston and while six shots from the halfway leader, Hinako Shibuno, she is tied in 14th place and well enough positioned on a demanding layout on which her experience and improving game could yet pay significant dividends.
Ko added a second round of 70 over the Crystal Creek layout, one of two being used in the opening 36 holes of the event, a late bogey a disappointment after what had been solid progress to that point.
Ko is however only three shots from the second placed Linn Grant, a Swedish amateur, and two shots ahead of her are three players yet to win a major title so her chances of contending over the weekend appear good.
The news wasn’t as good for her fellow countrywoman, Amelia Garvey, who, after heading the Australasian contingent with an opening round of 70, fell victim to the closing stretch of holes on the Jackrabbit layout and has missed the cut by one.
Garvey was well placed in terms of making it into the weekend with just four holes to play but five dropped shots in three holes from the 15th, including a triple bogey at the 16th, saw a gut-wrenching demise for the 20-year-old.
“Just that I know I belong here, I guess,” said Garvey when asked what she might take from the week. “Obviously first major experience, first proper tour competition. So I know my game is there.”
Ko, however, now has the opportunity to advance her cause over the weekend, although she was hardly inspired by her play.
“I don’t think I hit the ball as well today, but I made a lot of good up-and-downs,” said Ko. “No, I feel like it was a case where it could have been better but it could have been worse. So yeah, another solid round. Hopefully take that kind of momentum going into the weekend.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to hit it a little better. It’s not like it was bad, but just keep hitting it confidently out there and give myself good opportunities. I felt like my speed control with the putter was a lot better today, so kind of work on that a little bit and rest up for a good weekend.”
US-based Victorian amateur, Gabriela Ruffels, heads the Australians in 29th place after her round of 1 over 72 at the Jackrabbit course, leaving her eight shots from the lead but obly five shots out of second place.
Ruffel’s performance was made even more meritorious by the fact that she played with the leader, Shibuno and defending champion Jeong Eun Lee6.
Ruffels continues her exposure to the game’s best when she plays with world number one, Jin Young Ko and major champion, Danielle Kang, in round three.
Gabi Ruffels – photo USGA Robert Beck – heads the Australians thus far
When asked why there has been such an impressive showing of the amateurs to date this week, Ruffels responded: “It shows that women’s amateur golf is in pretty good form right now. I’ve known that since I started college.
“I’ve been playing against the top amateurs in college and have been super impressed and impressed with the they have been able to kind of put it against the best women in the world. So I’m actually not surprised at that.
“I feel like just playing with each other week in and week out. Even on my team we have I think four or five in the top 100 in the world. It’s always competitive. Week in week out we’re playing Stanford and all these really, really good teams and playing with each other every week, so I think it’s just if everyone is good it elevates everyone else.”
Su Oh, Minjee Lee and Hannah Green round out the Australasian contingent to make it into the weekend, the trio at 3 over and on the cutline and while ten shots from the lead they are only seven shots out of second place.
Su Oh – just makes the cut – Photo USGA
Sarah Jane Smith missed the cut by one along with Garvey while Katherine Kirk was a long way further back. Smith bogeyed her final hole to miss the chance of advancing her cause.
The leader Shibuno might not be all that familiar on the global stage but she has already won a major title when successful at the AIG Women’s Open Championship 16 months ago. She has also been a prolific winner of money and titles in her homeland of Japan.
Her standing three shots clear of the field, therefore, is not as surprising as it might appear.
The halfway leader Hinako Shibuno – photo USGA Robert Beck