THE WOODLANDS, Texas (AP) — A Lim Kim birdied the final two holes for a 7-under 65 and the lead Friday in the suspended second round of the rain-delayed Chevron Championship.
Thirty-one players were unable to finish the round before dark in the first women’s major tournament of the season, with the event in its first year in suburban Houston after a decades-long run in the California desert.
Kim won the last LPGA Tour major held in the Houston area, the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club. The South Korean player said she isn’t sure why she’s played so well in this area, but that she thinks it’s a great city.
After opening with a 71 on Thursday at The Club at Carlton Woods, she had eight birdies with just one bogey Friday to reach 8-under 136. Finishing on the front nine, the 27-year-old just missed an eagle on the par-4 ninth when her second shot landed mere inches from the hole before she tapped it in.
“I think front is … easier, more than the back nine,” she said.
Asked to recount some of her best shots Friday minutes after wrapping up the round, she was at a loss.
“I already forgot,” she said. “I don’t know.”
The remainder of the second round will wrap up Saturday morning after the start Friday was delayed two hours after more than 2 inches of rain fell overnight.
Americans Lilia Vu and Megan Khang were tied for second, a stroke behind. Khang shot a 67, and Vu had a 69.
Vu was great on the front nine with four birdies, including three straight on Nos. 7-9. She struggled some after that, with three bogeys on the back nine.
Khang had five birdies without a bogey, finishing just minutes before play was suspended because of darkness.
“I’m super thrilled,” Khang said. “I mean, hole 2 gave me a little bit of a struggle, and then coming down the stretch in the dark, 9 was kind of a little tricky chip.”
Vu is looking to second victory of her career after the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.
Vu, who didn’t make the cut at this event last year, believes she’s grown a lot and is now better equipped to deal with adversity.
“I try to remind myself that it’s a really tough week,” she said. “Everybody is going to make mistakes. It’s just how I come back from it, and then just try and make birdie the next hole and just let it go. It takes a lot out of me.”
Patty Tavatanakit and Nelly Korda were tied for fourth at 6 under. Tavatanakit had seven birdies, including on the last two holes to shoot a 67.
World No. 2 Korda had five birdies and three bogeys in a 70. Korda was disappointed that she missed some putts in the second round.
“You try to minimize your mistakes as much as possible,” she said. “I was punching the air a couple times after my two three-putts, which those are kind of stupid mistakes, but you just kind of have to stay mentally tough and know that there are some birdie opportunities, as well.”
Korda is fully healthy after missing four months and a lot of momentum last year with a blood clot in her arm that required surgery. She said the rain drastically changed the way the course played Friday.
“It was very wet out there, a lot of mud balls, and the greens were really soft as well compared to (Thursday),” she said. “Two rounds and two kind of completely different golf courses, so it was fun.”
Tavatanakit, who is from Thailand and won the event in 2021, said its odd to be playing this tournament in Texas.
“It just feels like it’s a new major, it’s a new course, so I treat it a little differently, I think,” she said. “Everything is just fresh. It feels more like we’re not playing the Chevron Championship just because it’s like the grass and everything is so East Coast. So, it’s just a little different.”
Taiwan’s Peiyun Chien, who shot a 67 to lead after the first round, was 5 under with four holes left.
A couple of high-profile players were in danger of missing the cut. Top-ranked Lydia Ko was tied for 78th place at 3 over with two holes to play.
American Lexi Thompson was tied for 66th at 2 over, also with two holes left. She said Wednesday that she was struggling with a sore right wrist after hitting too much at home in preparation for the tournament.
Defending champion Jennifer Kupcho missed the cut with rounds of 72 and 78.
DIVOTS: Inbee Park announced on Instagram she gave birth to her first child Friday, a girl. Park has not played since the Women’s British Open last summer. … American Christina Kim waded calf deep into murky water for a shot on the 15th hole. She made a bogey.
LILIA’S PUTTER PUTS ON A SHOW AT CHEVRON
Hitting every putt the right speed makes the game a lot easier. Think about it: putting only has two variables, line and speed. If you hit a 25-footer the right speed, you can misread it by a foot and still leave yourself a tap-in. Conversely, you can hit the edge of the hole with a putt going too fast and have a 6-footer coming back.
Ben Crenshaw preached the message of dying putts in the hole for decades. “Give gravity a chance,” the World Golf Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest putters in history, would say with an ecumenical fervor.
It’s a hard point to argue against, especially when you look at the history of major championships. The only top-shelf players who slammed putts in the hole were Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. Both are legends because they made all their 3-footers coming back. Jack Nicklaus won more tournaments tapping in on most greens than any player in history. And if you look back at Inbee Park in her prime, most of her putts fell in on the final roll.
“Harvey Penick used to put a dime on the front lip of the hole and tell me to try to stop a putt on that dime,” Crenshaw told me 20 years ago. “I could never do it, and Harvey said, ‘That’s because the ball is round, and the hole is round. If you’re rolling it slow enough to stop it on that dime, it’s going to fall in.”
Which brings us to Lilia Vu, the California native who had the round of the morning on Friday at The Club at Carlton Woods, a 3-under par 69 to move her to 7-under at the halfway point of The Chevron Championship. At 3:00 p.m., when she finished, Vu held the lead, her first in a major championship. And almost every bit of it was due to hitting putts the right speed.
“I’m known to be a pretty firm putter, I guess, but I think here it’s pretty slippery out here,” Vu said after completing her second round. “You can’t really afford to blast it by nine feet.”
The four birdie putts she had on the front fell in on the final roll and the 18-footer she made on the par-4 ninth would have gone into a hole the size of a shot glass. Even her eagle effort on the par-5 18th was hit the perfect speed, leaving Vu a tap-in for her sixth birdie of the day. A few shots got away from her, leading to three bogeys, but a good putter can always put a mistake or two behind her.
If there’s a critique in Vu’s game – and it’s not really a criticism – she tends to go at flags no matter where they’re located, a swashbuckling characteristic that might cost her, but will also win her a lot of tournaments.
“I think I unconsciously do it because my caddie always tells me, like, ‘Oh, left center of the green is perfect,’ and then I’ll hit and it’s directly at the flag,” Vu said. “He’s like, ‘Well, that wasn’t left center,’ and I’m like, ‘Sorry, it just happened.’”
Her coach in Brett Lederer, who tried the PGA Tour for a cup of coffee and now teaches in Long Beach, California with Jamie Mulligan, was known as an aggressive ball-striker who also never met a tucked pin he wouldn’t attack.
But you can get away with that when you roll putts the right speed.
“I think I’ve grown a lot since COVID, and I think I just never looked back,” Vu said. “I was in such a bad mindset my rookie year. Everything was life or death, and that’s not how I see things anymore. I feel like there’s always a solution to any problem, so I just try to stay positive, even though I get really angry sometimes when I make a mistake. I just try to look up and be positive.”
Crenshaw has never met Vu, but he understands exactly what she means. “It’s so easy, when you haven’t struck it well or you haven’t been scoring well, to start pressing on the greens, trying to make up for a couple of poor shots by jamming a putt in the hole,” he said before Vu ever picked up a golf club. “But that’s exactly the wrong approach and leads to more problems when you run a putt six feet by and have to struggle to make it coming back.”
“Most players don’t understand the concept of capture speed,” said short-game guru Gareth Raflewski. “When a putt is dying at the hole, the entire hole is in play. It can go in the front, the sides, even curl around the back and fall in. But if you’re hitting the ball hard enough for it to go three feet past the hole, the effective capture size is smaller than a quarter. Five feet by, it’s smaller than a dime.”
So forget the old “never up, never in” adage, a saying almost never uttered by a major champion. Instead, watch players like Lilia Vu. And listen to the best that ever rolled a ball on turf.
“Give gravity a chance.”
*Credit Information to wwww.lpga.com