FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Jim Liu is conspicuous with his Junior Ryder Cup carry bag. It’s a piece of memorabilia that many a junior player covets.
Liu, the top-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, played on the victorious U.S. team in 2010 and hopes for another spot this year. That announcement will come soon after this week’s Junior PGA.
Luckily for Liu, his game is feeling good. Playing his first tournament since the U.S. Junior, where he lost to Andy Shim in the final, Liu is ready to move on.
“The loss two weeks ago definitely stings a little. But at the same time, it will motivate me for my other junior events,” he said.
Liu called his second-round 71 a story of scraping it around Sycamore Hills – taking advantage of the par 5s and making clutch putts. It leaves him in good shape halfway through the tournament, if he can straighten out a few kinks on the driving range before Thursday’s third round.
“It’s kind of been like that the entire year,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of close calls, and hopefully I pull through this week.”
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Putting’s the key: Even though he has the lead halfway through the Junior PGA Championship, Tyler McDaniel left Sycamore Hills Golf Club on Wednesday evening with a bit of a bad taste in his mouth. McDaniel bogeyed No. 18 to finish at 3-under 69, but still holds a one-shot lead on Jim Liu.
Aside from the regret at that ending, which was his only bogey of the day, McDaniel exited the course to a bit of shock. Coming up the final fairway, he had glanced at a scoreboard that hadn’t been updated since mid-day. It still showed the lead at 8-under total. He thought the bogey had dropped him out of it.
“I was playing really good,” McDaniel said of his round. “I was hitting it really solid and my distance control was off just a little bit and I couldn’t get a lot of shots close, but it seems like my putter saved me when I needed it and gave me some scoring opportunities.”
McDaniel recently shelved his Scotty Cameron Studio in favor of the new Black style. He had been using the old putter for four years but decided it was time for a change. It was the key to Wednesday’s low round.
“To go low, that’s usually how it is,” he said.
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Strange day: The second round at Sycamore Hills was an uncharacteristically inaccurate day for Ariya Jutanugarn. Even though she eagled the par-5 second hole, after sticking a 6-iron to 15 feet from 170 yards out, she struggled to dial in her irons the rest of the day. Jutanugarn flew green after green, which contributed to the three bogeys on her card. She shot 70 to retain the lead at 8-under 136.
Jutanugarn’s older sister Moriya is five shots back and in a share of fourth after a second-round 72. Should Ariya hold steady and Moriya give chase, a familiar scene could play out: The Jutanugarns have finished one-two in three tournaments in the past two months: the Rolex Girls’ Junior, the Women’s Western Amateur and the Canadian Women’s Amateur.
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Perfect timing: Sierra Brooks was only half awake when her shot of the day came on TV. Brooks’ sandy hole-out for birdie at No. 18 came across the screen as one of ESPN’s top 10 plays of the day. Brooks, who came in at No. 9, got to see the replay Wednesday morning. Good thing, because it’s all her friends were buzzing about after the second round.
“My dad was watching TV and I heard ‘Sierra Brooks,’ ” she said of Tuesday’s midnight showing.
From across the green, Brooks couldn’t be seen when she set up to that bunker shot. The ball popped out and went into the hole, something she only realized after scaling the side of the hill to find an empty green. A clipped celebration followed. That birdied capped a first-round 81. Brooks turned in a 1-over 73 on Wednesday to move to T-39.
Considerable strokes came off Wednesday at the par-4 13th, where Brooks had another miraculous shot. She holed out from 105 yards for eagle with her 50-degree wedge. The best part?
“They got it on camera.”