Jutanugarn leads Volvik, primed for third straight win
Ann Arbor — It’s a jumbled leaderboard heading into the weekend at the Volvik Championship, and most names near the top have impressive resumes.
However, all of them will be chasing the player that happens to be the hottest golfer on the LPGA Tour — Ariya Jutanugarn.
She shot 4-under 68 on Friday at Travis Pointe Country Club, putting her at 11-under for the tournament and two shots clear of three golfers, including first-round leader Christina Kim, So Yeon Ryu and Marina Alex.
And while the fact Jutanugarn is going for her third consecutive victory might not be weighing on her mind, the other contenders are fully aware of who they’re pursuing.
“I think that having a bunched-up leaderboard is fantastic,” Kim said. “You look at some of the names at the top of the leaderboard, you’ve got Marina Alex, who’s a great friend of mine who put two really solid back-to-back rounds together. And obviously Ariya Jutanugarn who’s taken over the entire month of May.”
Jutanugarn, who hails from Thailand, won the Yokohama Tire Classic on May 5 and followed that last week with a victory at the Kingsmill Championship. She took a while to get rolling Friday. She was even-par on the front nine before picking up four birdies on the back.
She finished with an impressive birdie at the par-5 18th after her second shot hit the grandstand and ended up in a greenside bunker. She then calmly knocked her sand wedge to a foot from the hole and tapped in for a 4.
“I hit first shot pretty good and I had to hit cut 3-wood and it didn’t cut,” Jutanugarn said. “So it hit the stands and come back in the bunker and I make birdie.”
It’s all very matter-of-fact to her these days, something that’s not surprising for a player who has shot par or better in each of her last 13 rounds.
Now she enters the weekend on the verge of becoming the first to win three straight since Inbee Park in 2013.
“Not really,” Jutanugarn said when asked if she’s starting to think about winning three in a row. “I mean, right now, I’m really happy with it and I really enjoy playing golf right now, so I’m not thinking about I’m going to win, I’m going to lose. I just have fun and keep playing good.”
However, Jutanugarn isn’t the only player hitting her stride. Ryu, of South Korea, is the No. 11-ranked player in the world and has finished in the top 10 in each of her last two events, and three of the last four.
She has just one bogey this week and didn’t have a single blemish in the second round, finishing with a 5-under 67.
“I was so close to winning the last three tournaments, the final round wasn’t good enough to get the trophies,” Ryu said. “So I was really disappointed in myself as well. But the good thing is I just kept in contention, that I just kept fighting. I really want to hold this and I really want to keep my positive mind until Sunday.”
Kim had the round of the week on Thursday, firing an 8-under 64. The putts weren’t falling Friday, however, and she managed just two birdies and a bogey for a 1-under 71.
“I still struck the ball pretty well,” Kim said. “I missed a few more fairways out there, but I was able to, for the most part when I was in trouble, get myself out of it. But yeah, I just putted like doo-doo, that’s the only way I can describe it.”
Alex was the clubhouse leader after the morning wave, shooting a 5-under 67. That was matched by Brittany Lincicome, who sits four back at 7-under, while Azahara Munoz fired a second-straight 3-under 69 to get to 6-under for the tournament.
Unlike the first round, the conditions remained prime for scoring in the afternoon as several players closed ground.
Jessica Korda had the best round of the day, shooting a 7-under 65 to sit four shots back of Jutanugarn while a 5-under 67 also left Giulia Molinaro four off the lead.
“Slowly but surely (my game is) starting to show up again,” Korda said. “It’s really, really nice.”
The cut fell at 2-over, forcing several big names to head home early.
Paula Creamer followed an opening-round 5-over 77 with a 1-under 71 to miss the cut and Michelle Wie shot 76 for two straight rounds to come in at 8-over.