RANCHO MIRAGE, California: Birdies on the final two holes brought defending champion Patty Tavatanakit within one shot of the lead after two rounds of the LPGA Chevron Championship.
Hinako Shibuno of Japan fired seven birdies for a 6-under par 66 to take the lead at the first major tournament of the women’s golf season. Patty, last year’s LPGA Rookie of the Year, is tied in second with American Annie Park and overnight co-leader Michelle Kupcho.
In calm morning conditions on the Mission Hills course, Shibuno tapped in for birdie at the par-four first, one of her five birdies on the front nine. She opened the back nine with another short birdie at the 10th.
“That makes it easier to play golf,” said the 2019 Women’s British Open, who added another birdie at the 13th before closing with five straight pars for a nine-under total of 135.
Patty, who led from start to finish through all four days of last year’s event, said she was pleased with her three-under 69 on a day when she felt she had left a few shots on the course.
“I think 17 was definitely a bonus,” she said after rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-three penultimate hole.
“That pin position was just taking it one shot at a time, and it ended up being a great shot.”
She missed the green at the par-five 18th, but chipped within three feet for another birdie, noting that it’s “always a cheery feeling” to make a birdie at the last.
Patty will now be chasing a rare title defence. Only two players — Sandra Post of Canada in 1978-79 and Swedish great Annika Sorenstam in 2001-02 — have won at Mission Hills in consecutive years.
The prestigious major championship, renamed with a new sponsor this year, is being held on the Dinah Shore course for the last time, before a move to Houston next year
Among other Thai competitors, third-year played Pajaree Anannarukarn is in contention at 5 under par, two strokes ahead of veteran Pornanong Phatlum.
Teen sensation Atthaya Thitikul, who won her first LPGA victory last week, is at 2 under alongside Wichanee Meechai. Jasmine Suwannapura and 12-tme winner Ariya Jutanugarn are at 1 under and Moriya Jutanugarn is at even par after two rounds.
Park played on her own for the second straight day as the odd woman out in a 115-player field grouped in twosomes.
“Playing by myself was kind of weird yesterday, but today I kind of got used to it,” Park said after a five-under par 67. “I think when I made the turn and started waiting on players in the group in front of me, kind of just started to feel like normal golf.
“Just overall it was a great day and I feel a lot better about my long game,” added the American, who has never finished inside the top 15 in 23 prior major championship starts.
“I’ve been putting a lot better. Made some really good putts out there. Did leave some out there, but overall I’m stroking it pretty solid.”
Kupcho started the day tied for the lead alongside Australian Minjee Lee. Patience was the key to her two-under 70, in which she didn’t make a birdie until her 16th hole of the day, the seventh.
She added another birdie at the ninth to cap her round and claim a share of second.
Lee, meanwhile, carded a one-over 73 to fall into a group on 139.
World number one Ko Jin-young, however, moved up the leaderboard after a surprising two-over 74 on Thursday.
Ko, the winner of six of her last 12 events, saw her streak of 34 consecutive LPGA rounds under par come to an end.
In danger of missing the cut, she responded on Friday with a four-under par 68 that left her tied for 29th.