Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum produced a major turnaround in form to lead the field after the second round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
The diminutive 28-year-old from Bangkok had made just one cut in eight previous starts in the championship but that did not stop her firing a second successive 67 to take a one-shot lead at the halfway stage on ten under-par 134.
What made her performance all-the more-impressive was that the Thai golfer played all 36-holes without dropping a single shot on what is widely regarded as one of the most demanding courses on the GB & I links circuit.
Phatlum will go into the weekend holding her first lead since the 2014 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia when she went on to finish second behind Shanshan Feng.
Home challenge still strong
She is one shot ahead of England’s Georgia Hall, Japan’s Mamika Higa and Australia’s Minjee Lee while Taiwan’s Teresa Lu is in fifth place on eight-under par 136 after carding rounds of 67 and 69 and South Korea’s Sung Hyun Park is one shot further back after adding a 70 to her opening 67.
Phatlum opened her round with three straight pars but then birdied the 4th, 6th and 7th to go out in 32 before collecting further birdies at the 10th and the 16th.
“My long game wasn’t as good as yesterday, but my putter was still working well,” she said. “It’s still early. Anything can happen tomorrow, but I’m just going to try to stay aggressive and see what happens.
The Thai player had no answer to questions about why her form this week is so much better than her previous best tie for 27th place at Royal Birkdale in 2014 but that might be doing herself an injustice because to date this season she has already finished tied-seventh at the Honda LPGA Thailand and in a share of 15th place at the ANA Inspiration.
The only other player in the field to play the first 36-holes without a blemish is 2017 Ladies European Tour No. 1, Georgia Hall, who was tied for third place 12 months ago at Kingsbarns and is challenging again after adding a 68 to her opening 67.
The 22-year-old from Bournemouth began the round with eight straight pars before posting her first red number with a birdie on the ninth. She made further advances at the 13th, 15th and 16th and will go into the weekend with the support of the home crowd behind her as she bids to become the first British champion since Catriona Matthew at Lytham in 2009.
“On a normal course, if you shot eight pars in a row, you might be a bit shaken, but not on this course,” she said. “Actually, I’m happy, this is a tough golf course and there were some tricky pin positions out there today. I told myself to stay patient, and then on No. 9 I hit it to two feet. That kind of got me going for the round.
“I’m in a similar position now as I was last year, so I know what it feels like,” she added. “So I’m still pretty calm and not really feeling much at the moment, which is good. I don’t want to feel anything. I’m just enjoying it, and hopefully I can play well tomorrow.”
Australia’s Minjee Lee held the first round lead with a seven under par 65 and it looked for a while that she would still be out front at halfway before a double bogey on the 16th and a bogey on the 17th resulted in her posting a 70 and dropping one shot out of the lead alongside Hall and Higa. The Japanese player also looked as if might top the field before a double bogey on the 70 stalled her challenge and saw her post a 70.
“I had a little hiccup on the 16 and 17 but overall it was okay,” said the Australian. “I’m putting well and have been hitting the ball solid for the last two weeks, so I’m just looking to carry that forward into the weekend.”
For the second day in row there was a hole-in-one on the ninth which resulted in title sponsors Ricoh handing out a £2,000 bonus as part of its drive to raise funds for raise funds of Alzheimer’s Research UK.
On the first day it was England’s Florentyna Parker who posted the magic number and 24-hours later it was the turn of Canada’s Brooke Henderson whose ace with a 9-iron helped her post a 70 and finish alongside Parker, America’s Mina Harigae, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom on five under par 139.
The cut fell was at one over par 145 and among the players to miss out were Charley Hull, Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Inbee Park and Mel Reid.
The Asia-Pacific champion Atthaya Thitikul carded rounds of 73 and 71 to be the only amateur to make the cut and is guaranteed the Smyth Salver awarded to the leading amateur provided she completes the next two rounds.