Australia’s two most recent major champions remain right in contention at the halfway mark of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club.
Korea’s In Gee Chun backed up her opening round of eight-under 64 with a three-under 69 to reach 11-under, six shots clear of American Jennifer Kupcho (68) and Kiwi Lydia Ko (67).
West Australian Hannah Green had narrowed the deficit to also reach five-under but a three-putt bogey at her final hole – the par-5 9th – dropped her back to a share of fourth with Brooke Henderson (69), Sei Young Kim (69), Caroline Inglis (68) and Jennifer Chang (70).
The U.S. Women’s Open champion three weeks ago, Minjee Lee elevated herself into the picture with a second round of four-under 68 to be one of five players tied for ninth at three-under, eight shots off the lead.
Green had seven-time major champion Karrie Webb in the gallery for a number of holes of her round but is hoping to see Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course firm up over the final 36 holes as she seeks to add to her 2019 win.
“I would like to see this course a little bit firmer,” said Green, whose round featured birdies at 11, 15, 17, one and three.
RIGHT: Minjee Lee has her eye on more major success this week. PHOTO: Elsa/Getty Images.
“I feel like with wedges today we were worrying about how much they were going to spin back, so if we can see them bounce and release a little bit more, I think that would suit me.
“It feels like kind of what we played in the practice rounds, so it actually has dried up significantly quickly. Hopefully it just gets firmer.”
Three birdies in the space of four holes on her inward nine provided the cornerstone of Lee’s surge up the leaderboard on Friday.
The two-time major champion began the day nine strokes off the lead and only narrowed the deficit by one with a front nine of one-under 35.
The 26-year-old began the back nine with three straight pars but a brilliant shot into the par-3 12th set up a birdie from eight feet to spark her charge.
She followed that up with a wedge to 5 feet for her fourth birdie of the day at the par-4 14th and then made a crucial par save from 6 feet at 15 to maintain her forward momentum.
“It feels like kind of what we played in the practice rounds, so it actually has dried up significantly quickly. Hopefully it just gets firmer.” - Hannah Green.
Lee moved to four-under on her round with a birdie at the par-5 16th and looked set for another at 17 until her approach shot hit the flag and was repelled to the other side of the green, producing an excellent two-putt to save par.
A poor tee shot at 18 and a second that finished in the penalty area threatened to undo much of Lee’s good work but again she showed her remarkable recovery prowess to get up-and-down and complete a four-under 68 and three-under total.
“I did hit a good pitch shot in and a good putt to save the par, so I’m happy with the finish,” said Lee. “I’m happy with the hole, but I’m not happy with the shots that I hit on that hole.
“I just needed a few birdies coming in just to make up some ground and I think I put myself in a pretty good position for the weekend. I’m happy with my round today.”
It has been three weeks since Lee’s four-stroke U.S. Women’s Open win at Pine Needles. Where she had a handy buffer entering the final round Lee will be chasing this weekend at Congressional, a role she played to perfection in her first major victory at Evian last year.
“Chasing is always fun,” said Lee, who equalled the major championship record in coming from seven shots back to win at Evian.
“You can try to be a bit more aggressive when you play. If I reflect back and look back at the U.S. Open, just the memories that I have and just the way I played I think I can take a lot of confidence out of that.”
Three birdies and three bogeys saw Sydney’s Stephanie Kyriacou sign for a second straight even par 72 to sit in a tie for 27th, Sarah Kemp (74) the fourth and final Aussie to make the cut with a two-round total of three-over.