Annie Park was the last golfer to earn a spot in the Chevron Championship field. Through two laps, she is on track to go from last to first.
Park, who played alone Thursday and Friday in the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year, is just one stroke behind point guard Hinako Shibuno.
“I’m just having fun there. I think that’s kind of the biggest key, and I’ve had a good time on the golf course for a while,” said Park, who wasn’t fazed by playing alone. “There’s a lot of talking to myself and being stuck with my caddy’s dad jokes.”
Park, once a winner on the LPGA Tour and a famous fan, admitted she seriously considered stepping away from the game during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she took a two-month hiatus last year.
She finished tied for 23rd at the JTBC Classic last week, her best result on the LPGA Tour since last June.
“I think last week was the first time I started enjoying it again,” Park said. “Just in general, like being able to see the spectators again and having, I think, this new passion for golf.”
Park sits at 8 under through two rounds at Mission Hills Country Club and is tied with defending champion Patty Tavatanakit and Jennifer Kupcho.
Shibuno, who is under 9 on 36 holes, had seven birdies on Friday en route to a 66 under 66.
Nicknamed the Smiling Cinderella, Shibuno took the golfing world by storm in 2019 when she won the Women’s British Open on her LPGA Tour debut. It was his first competition outside his home country.
Shibuno said through a translator that she is a more mature player now than in 2019 and has more moves in her repertoire. If she were to win, she would become the first Japanese champion in the event’s half-century history.
While Shibuno finished strong on Friday, Canadian Brooke Henderson struggled to close for the second day in a row.
Henderson missed his final two holes to shoot a 1-under 71 on Friday. She’s 1 under for the championship and will head into the weekend eight strokes off the lead. Henderson missed a par-wild putt on the par-3 17th, then found the water on the par-5 18th en route to a second consecutive bogey.
The closing effort came after she birdied on Nos. 5 and 16 and was within shouting distance of the midday lead.
There were plenty of questions about Henderson’s game at the start of the week after she was forced to switch to a shorter driver due to a new club length rule, but so far her numbers are strong . Henderson has gone 75% of his fairways in two rounds and is averaging 284 yards in distance – more than 10 yards more than his season average. She even hit a highlight approach shot with her driver off the fairway on the par-5 11th. From 260 yards away, she landed her ball about 40 feet from the hole and birdied it.
Henderson has finished in the top 20 at five of the last nine majors she has appeared in and at five tournaments.
Canada’s other entry this week, Maude-Aimée Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., shot a 6 of 78 and missed the cut line 1 over by seven shots.
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