Choi chases second career major win, leads British
Whoever wins this week’s $2.75 million Ricoh Women’s British Open will have to putt the St. Andrews greens well. That’s the case in any tournament, but especially on the massive double greens of St Andrews.
Na Yeon Choi seems to have found her putting stroke just in time. Back-to-back 67s have vaulted Choi into the lead with a good chance of winning her second major championship after last year’s US Women’s Open.
Choi leads at 10 under, one shot ahead of Japan’s Miki Saiki and two shots in front of Morgan Pressel. Suzann Pettersen, Jee Young Lee and Nicole Castrale share fourth place at 7 under.
Choi only had one bogey around the Old Course, a five at the par-4 7th hole. Aside from that she was simply peerless. Chalk her performance up to improvements on the greens.
“The last two months I’ve hit 15-16 greens and have taken 35 putts,” she said.
Work with her coach Robin Symes has helped Choi regain confidence on the greens. She’s been practicing with her eyes closed to try to inject some feel into her game.
“This week my coach has given me lots of compliments and that has given me confidence,” Choi said.
The 25-year-old has had to cope with a rise in expectations since winning last year’s U.S. Open. She says that hasn’t helped her progress.
“This year I’ve felt pressure a lot from Korean fans, friends, family and media,” she admitted.
She might not have won this season but she’s been consistent. She has six top 10 finishes, including second in the HSBC Women’s Champions in February.
Saiki eagled her way into the early lead before Choi overtook her. The Japanese player took just 30 strokes to play the front nine. Her 6-under spurt to the turn was achieved with eagles at the fourth and seventh holes thanks to two holed approach shots.
Saiki, who has two wins on this year’s Japanese LPGA Tour, came home in level par with a birdie at the par-5, 14th hole and a bogey at the 16th.
Pressel added a 2-under-par 70 to her opening 66 to stay in contention.
“I played very well today,” Pressel said. “I didn’t really put myself in any trouble.
“I gave myself a lot of chances at birdies, but at the end of the day I made a lot of pars.”
Inbee Park starts the final 36 holes eight shots behind Choi on 2-under-par. Park returned a 1-over-par 73 to go with her opening 69. She needs two exceptional rounds if she is to pull off the unprecedented and win the Grand Slam.
Park is chasing her fourth consecutive major following victories in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship and US Women’s Open.
It seems a tall order to think she can make up an eight shot deficit over two rounds, but stranger things have happened in this game.
“You never know what’s going to happen the next two days, especially if the conditions get tougher," she said. "Anything can happen out there.”
Perhaps, but the smart money is on Choi winning her second major.
Notables to miss the half way cut of plus one included Laura Davies, Charley Hull, 2004 champion Karen Stupples, Sophie Gustafson, Karrie Webb, Lexi Thomson and 2010 and 2011 champion Yani Tseng.