World No.1 Jennifer Kupcho maintained her position atop the leader board with a one-under-par 71 in Thursday’s second round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. She holds a one-stroke lead over Mexico’s Maria Fassi as the championship shifts to Augusta National Golf Club for Saturday’s final round.
Kupcho, a senior at Wake Forest and the reigning NCAA champion, was bogey-free through 31 holes at Champions Retreat Golf Club and reached seven-under par. She dropped shots, however, on the 5th and 8th holes to finish one-under-par 71 for the day, leaving her at five-under-par 139 after the first 36 holes.
Fassi, Kupcho’s good friend and the 2018 ANNIKA Award winner as the top female collegiate golfer, birdied two of her final three holes to record a second consecutive round of two-under 70 for a four-under-par 140 total through two rounds.
Sierra Brooks (70) and Kaitlyn Papp (69), both of the United States, and Thailand’s Pimnipa Panthong (70), are tied for third place at three-under-par 141.
With the top 30 advancing to the final round on Saturday at Augusta National, there was late drama in store for patrons as 11 players tied for 21st place at three-over par through 36 holes. In the playoff, nine players safely negotiated the par-4 10th hole with pars, leaving Ainhoa Olarra of Spain and Alessia Nobilio of Italy fighting for the final place.
“I started out strong and was hitting the ball really well … After the bogey on the 5th, I was just trying to get through 6, honestly – and then the 7th, 8th and 9th were all birdie holes. Obviously, I didn't make any, and I didn't really give myself an opportunity.” – Jennifer Kupcho
Olarra, who works as an auditor in Madrid, grabbed the final spot on the second playoff hole – the par-3 17th – where she rolled in a birdie putt from 25 feet.
The full field of 72 players will have the opportunity to play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday.
The 21-year-old Kupcho and Fassi, a senior at University of Arkansas, have already qualified for the LPGA through last year’s Q-Series, but deferred turning pro until after this year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship in May.
Kupcho started from the 10th tee and negotiated the tougher Bluff Nine at Champions Retreat in two-under par with birdies on the par-3 11th and 17th holes. She picked up another stroke on the par-4 1st, but she missed a short birdie putt on her 11th hole, the second of the Island Nine, and struggled with her swing after that.
“I started out strong and was hitting the ball really well,” Kupcho said. “After the bogey on the 5th, I was just trying to get through 6, honestly – and then the 7th, 8th and 9th were all birdie holes. Obviously, I didn't make any, and I didn't really give myself an opportunity.
“Hopefully, I can go out and figure out what was going on with my swing.”
“I definitely think my length will help. It allowed me to make the number of birdies that I made here. It also got me in some trouble, but I think at Augusta National, it's going to be really beneficial just to help me hit those high shots that land soft to those greens.” – Maria Fassi
The long-hitting Fassi averaged 289.2 yards off the tee in the opening round. On Thursday, she eagled the toughest hole on the golf course – the par-5 14th where she chipped in from 40 yards – and made an additional five birdies, but also mixed in five bogeys.
Even though she was not the most accurate with her driver, she felt she held an advantage over the field at Augusta National.
“I knew I had to post an under-par score to be in contention for Saturday, and it was just exciting to see that I made so many birdies,” said the 21-year-old from Pachuca.
“I definitely think my length will help. It allowed me to make the number of birdies that I made here. It also got me in some trouble, but I think at Augusta National, it's going to be really beneficial just to help me hit those high shots that land soft to those greens.”
Zoe Campos (75), the 16-year-old from Valencia, Calif., who jointly led with Kupcho at four-under through the first round, dropped to seventh place at one under par, one shot behind Japan’s Yuka Yasuda (70).
Australian Julienne Soo missed the cut – but she will still play a practice round at Augusta National tomorrow.