SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. — The top two ranked players in the field at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship bounced back from so-so rounds Thursday to zoom up the leaderboard Friday.
Nelly Korda, No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings, and Jin Young Ko, who checks in at No. 3, each birdied the par-5 18th hole to close their first rounds late in the day to finish with 2-over 70s.
Those birdies may have jump-started their early-wave second rounds, as Ko shot a 65 and Korda a 66 on Friday playing in the morning wave.
Those two plus Brooke Henderson formed easily the most popular threesome over the first two days. Korda, who was a bit under the weather Friday, opened with two birdies, made the turn in 33, and had three more birdies in a row on her back nine before closing with a birdie on the easiest hole on the course, the par-5 18th.
Her birdies came in bunches, as she went back-to-back on Nos. 1 and 2, as well as Nos. 6 and 7 before posting three in a row on Nos. 13 through 15.
“They were short holes so I could use my length to my advantage,” she said. “Hit some solid wedge shots in. Pretty sure my first bounce-back was a reachable par-5. Then it was a short par-4 after. Yeah, they’re just shorter holes so I can take advantage of it.”
Course conditions were a bit different Friday, as well.
“I played in colder weather today but fresher greens,” she said. “Towards the end in the afternoon, you could definitely tell the greens were really bumpy. They were rolling solid this morning.”
Ko, meanwhile, did Korda one better Friday, posting a bogey-free 65 which included four birdies on her last eight holes. She played the front nine last and closed with a birdie on No. 9 but also admitted that she wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
“My goal this week was to make the cut because truthfully my condition isn’t good. My voice being gone and my game are separate things, but it’s tough not being able to speak much, but I still did my best,” she said. “I couldn’t talk much with my caddie Dave today. I wish we could have talked more especially when selecting clubs.”
Ko is tied for seventh, three shots back, and Korda tied for 15th four back.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko skipped the Drive On, and she’s not guaranteed to stay atop the rankings with the second- and third-ranked players close behind.
Korda can return to No. 1 with:
a solo second
two-way tie for second
a three-way tie for second
a solo third and if Jin Young Ko doesn’t win
Jin Young Ko can return to No. 1 with:
a win and a Korda solo third or worse
Three-way tie for lead
Jenny Shin, one of three tied for the lead after the first round at 7 under, is one of three tied for the lead at 12 under after 36 holes. She opened with a bogey on No. 10 on Friday but strung together five straight birdies to close out her front nine en route to a 67.
Shin has one LPGA win and it came seven years ago. “I’m happy to be where I am. I haven’t been here in a while, so especially solo lead. So I’m very excited,” she said.
Shin has a fill-in caddie for the week, Joe Shildmyer.
“‘There is this guy I know and he’s great company,’” Shin said of Gemma Dryburgh’s recommendation. “Hey, that’s all I can ask for. Met him on Monday and he really is great company out there.”
Late in the day, Moriya Jutanugarn posted a bogey-free 65 that included five birdies and an eagle to get to 12 under and tie Shin atop the leaderboard. Jutanugarn’s last win came five years ago. Then, beating the setting sun, Maddie Szeryk had three birdies over her last five holes to shoot a 65 and also tie for the lead.
Albatross for Saso
The shot of the day came off the 19-degree hybrid of 2021 U.S. Open champ Yuka Saso. On the par-5 second hole, her 11th of the day, Saso holed out from 217 yards for an albatross. It’s the first one on the LPGA since 2020.
“We all know how hard it is to get one,” she said, admitting as she was approaching the green she didn’t realize her ball was in the cup. “They say you’re lucky if you ever get one in your golf career. I guess I was very lucky to have it.”
The top 65 and ties make the cut. Saturday’s third-round tee times start at 11:10 a.m. ET (8:10 a.m. local time) with the leaders going off at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. local). Golf Channel’s live coverage is from 7 to 9 p.m. ET.