Korea’s Inbee Park might be leading the women’s Olympic golf tournament by a stroke but it was newly-married Stacy Lewis who stole the headlines.
Lewis fired a course record 63 to stand on the brink of Olympic glory at the end of a whirlwind two weeks in which she got married and became an Olympic athlete.
The much-decorated American takes everything in her stride, even preparing for a visit to the Olympic diving event soon after compiling the eight under round, which saw her surge into the medal positions on 133, nine under, just one off the pace set by Park.
However, watching the talented divers may act as a springboard to success on Saturday afternoon, when Lewis attempts to follow in the footsteps of her compatriot, Margaret Abbot, who won gold for the United States in Paris way back in 1900.
First, though, the honeymooning ‘Mrs Chadwell’ faces the challenge of overhauling Park, who continued her impressive recovery from a thumb injury by matching her opening 66 for a 36-hole total of 132.
"...the highlight for me was just getting to see the guys up there on the podium on 18 on Sunday getting their medals and just thinking about how cool that would be to be in their shoes and be doing that on Saturday." - Stacy Lewis.
Lewis had 11 birdies during a brilliant performance on the Olympic course, lowering Park’s course record from Wednesday by two shots. Even a bogey and a three-putt double-bogey at the par-3 14th failed to put a stop to her climb up the leaderboard.
On the contrary, the 31-year-old recovered from mini-disaster at the 14th by closing with four straight birdies to match the 63 shot by Australia’s Marcus Fraser in the men’s tournament seven days ago.
“I guess I have a course record here, and it’s great to put my name on that, and being near the top of the leaderboard at the Olympics,” Lewis said. “It's something that, I think, every kid is going to dream of doing.
“It's been such a cool week so far, and the highlight for me was just getting to see the guys up there on the podium on 18 on Sunday getting their medals and just thinking about how cool that would be to be in their shoes and be doing that on Saturday. It's definitely a motivating factor but I've had a great week and we're enjoying it so far.”
Park, a seven-time major winner, admitted she arrived in Rio more in hope than expectation after a lengthy lay-off due to the on-going thumb injury. However, the Korean has plotted a steady course for two days.
“I was able to convert the birdies today. I missed a couple of tee shots, so I was in the sand area, but I was able to convert them into birdies. That's really the key for today's round,” she said.
The leaderboard reflects the global nature of the competition, with a league of nations contending inside the top ten of an exciting women’s event. Hard on the heels of Park and Lewis are Canadian Brooke Henderson and Charley Hull, bidding to follow the gold medal performance of her fellow Briton, Justin Rose. Henderson also went low with a 64 while Hull tagged a 66 onto her opening 68 to be at eight under.
A group of three players are a shot further back at seven under – Norway’s Marianne Skarpnord, Denmark’s Nicole Broch Larsen and Candie Kung of Chinese Taipei while the youngest player in the field, 18-year-old Aditi Ashok carries the hopes of India at six-under-par.
Also at six under is Australia’s No.1 player Minjee Lee, who set the front nine of the Olympic course on fire in the second round, making five birdies against one bogey before the turn. Another birdie at the par-5 10th had the West Australian moving into the top-5 on the leaderboard but a poor tee shot on the par-3 14th saw her bogey and she scrambled fror pars all the way home to card a four under 67.
“I think I was four‑under through nine, and then I birdied 10,” she said. “The wind kind of got up and we were on the clock I think most of the back nine. I think my rhythm was a little out. I made really good up‑and‑downs. So I'm happy with that, and I'm happy with my result
“I think the birdies and my par saves were as important as each other … some of those up‑and‑downs,” she smiled.
Lee admitted it’s hard not to think about trying to win an Olympic medal.
“When you're on the golf course, you don't really think about it,” she said. “But when you're obviously not on the golf course, you just sort of realise how big of an event it is and not just for yourself, because you're representing your country and for women's golf.
“So I think it's pretty cool just to be here. I think it's amazing. More amazing as it goes on.”
Fellow Aussie Su Oh had a one over 72 and is tied for 38th after two rounds. The 20-year-old Victorian will rue three makeable par putts that resulted in bogies, which has been the story of her Olympic campaign. She has simply not made enough putts be to higher on the leaderboard.
Oh will be out early on day three (9.52pm AEST), while Lee will play in the third last group out (11.47pm AEST) alongside Kung and Indian teenager Aditi Ashok.