Na-Yeon on pace for title defence

Na Yeon Choi hitting her second shot on the fourth at the East Course of Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club ©Eddie Putera/The ClubHouse

Kuala Lumpur: Na-Yeon Choi continued her march toward a second straight Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia crown on Friday, firing a second round four-under 67 to take a two-shot lead into the weekend rounds.

The 25-year-old defending champion from South Korea mixed three birdies on each nine with two dropped shots on the inward nine for a two-day total of 10-under 132 at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.

Tour rookie Sydnee Michaels of the United States, who is making her first appearance in the US$1.9 million LPGA event, rode on the birdie train including five straight gains from hole 11 to surge into second spot behind Choi.

Norwegian Suzann Pettersen followed on from her level-par opener with a scintillating seven-under 64 to take a share of third alongside Japanese duo  Momoko Ueda (67) and Mika Miyazato (69) as well as American Lizette Salas, who nailed the first hole-in-one of the championship at the par-three 15th, en-route to a four-under 67.

Choi, who got her title defence off to a flyer with a flawless 65 on Thursday was pleased with the two-shot cushion. “I think it’s alright. I had a pretty good round notwithstanding the two bogeys today but managed to keep my position intact. I’m playing with a lot of confidence as I am really liking the golf course,” she said.

“My strategy was simple just like yesterday was to hit the fairways first and my first bogey came when I teed-off into the rough on the 11th. The other on the 17th was a rare blimp, when I three-putted after a good approach.”

The 2012 US Women’s Open winner credited her solid iron play as she laid out her plans for the weekend. “I am satisfied with the way I played today and definitely hit my irons well. So, I’m think I can build on my lead over the next two days and achieving a good result like last year.”

Choi remained modest when asked if she was running away with the title. “I don’t know. We still have to play two more rounds and as the scores indicate, a lot of the players can shoot six to seven-under par a day. So, nobody knows after tomorrow’s rounds But I think I’m in a good position, so I’m just going to keep working hard and produce some good results,” noted Choi.

The biggest mover of the day was Symetra Tour graduate Michaels, who had a relatively quiet first nine with two birdies against her sole bogey of the round on the ninth before a five-birdie run on the back pushed her into contention.

“I definitely got on a roll. I gave myself good birdie chances every time and I made the putts.I have been working on putting for the last month and it’s paying off,” said the 24-year-old Californian, who was quite a sight indeed on the fairways with her pink sun umbrella and compression sleeves.

A more aggressive approach reaped dividends for Pettersen and Rolex Rankings number eight player was delighted with the momentum she is bringing into the final stretch.

“Today was a very solid round. I had a lot of easy birdies. I think I had three or four tap-ins and one 20-feet long bomber. I’ve been feeling really good with my putter a for a few weeks and it’s continuing. I feel like I can be aggressive and trust my instinct, just really try to push every green with a lot of confidence,” expressed the Norwegian.

A relieved Salas was thankful for the ace, which helped rein in a run of three straight bogeys after a flawless opening 31, highlighted by four birdies. “I was trying to stay patient and not get too frustrated. I stayed positive and was to get back in rhythm when I had a good swing and hit the target on that hole,” shared Salas.

National amateur Aretha Pan registered a second consecutive 73 to remain the best-placed Malaysian on four-over 146 but will need to up her game if she intends to catch up with Thai lass Ariya Jutanugarn (72), who is one-under for the championship.

Rolex Rankings world number one Yani Tseng continued to struggle, posting a one-over 72 for eight-over 150 total and there was further bad news for Chinese Taipei after amateur Min Lee, who stole headlines on Thursday with an impressive five-under 66, was disqualified for signing an incorrect score.

The 17-year-old was also disqualified recently for signing an incorrect scorecard while leading after 54-holes of the Taiwan Amateur Championship.

Leading second round scores

132 – Na Yeon Choi (KOR) 65-67
134 – Sydnee Michaels (USA) 69-65
135 – Suzann Pettersen (NOR) 71-64; Momoka Ueda (JPN) 68-67, Lizette Salas (USA) 68-67, Mika Miyazato (JPN) 66-69
136 – Lindsey Wright (AUS) 70-66, Paula Creamer (USA) 69-67, Catriona Matthew (SCO) 68-68, Sun Young Yoo (KOR) 66-70, Karrie Webb (AUS) 65-71
137 – Eun-Hee Ji (KOR) 70-67, I.K. Kim (KOR) 70-67, Caroline Hedwall 70-67, Inbee Park (KOR) 69-68, Brittany Lang (USA) 69-68, Ai Miyazato (JPN) 68-69