By HANK KURZ Jr.
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Ariya Jutanugarn weathered the wind and kept her lead Friday in the LPGA Tour’s Kingsmill Championship.
The 17-year-old Thai player missed three short par putts early, but rolled in a 45-footer and two others for birdie on the wind-swept River Course in an even-par 71 that gave her a one-stroke lead at 7 under.
A day after shooting a 64, Jutanugarn started with a three-putt bogey on her first hole and, with the wind making it difficult to control the ball, said she tried to play safer than normal, and found that didn’t work.
“It make me want to go back to my game on the back nine,” the normally aggressive player said.
A birdie at the par-5 seventh — her 16th hole of the day — gave her the outright lead, and she finished with two pars.
Stacy Lewis and Angela Stanford, both a shot back after 68s, had the best rounds of the day. Both played early and came off the course saying the wind was picking up.
“The wind’s not dying down out there so it’s going to be tough this afternoon,” Lewis said.
She was right, mostly, but the players who managed best were able to make moves on the leaderboard.
Suzann Pettersen, the 2007 winner, and Sandra Gal shot 69 and found themselves in a tie for fourth when two-time Kingsmill champion Cristie Kerr.
Kerr chunked a chip shot and bogeyed the final hole.
“It’s a round where you needed to kind of stay around the lead and not take yourself out of it,” she said. “It was tough conditions, so I would have liked to shoot 1 under today for sure, but I didn’t hit it that great today compared to yesterday.”
Pettersen agreed the conditions were difficult, but not as bad as some made it sound.
“I like it when it’s tough. It’s very challenging,” she said. “Like I said, you can’t really back off. You can’t really bail out. Once you decide on a club, you’ve got to hit the shot you’re seeing, otherwise you could be three clubs short or two clubs long. For me, it just sharpens my focus a lot.”
Stanford, along with Natalie Gulbis the only players to make all nine cuts at Kingsmill, started with a three-putt bogey and felt fortunate to be able to duplicate the 68 she had Thursday.
“Overall it seems like it was Groundhog Day,” she said. “I hit 14 greens again and had 29 putts again and got up and down every time again, so interesting that they seem like carbon copies of each other.”
The more difficult conditions, however, made Friday’s 68 more impressive.
“Today I felt like I got the most out of today,” Stanford said.
Lewis, who started at 8:36 a.m., said the wind was affecting balls in flight, and on the green.
“It was blowing when we started but it was probably midway through the front nine when it really started to blow pretty good,” said Lewis, who was ranked No. 1 earlier this year. “It’s drying out the course so the downwind holes, it’s releasing on the greens and it’s definitely affecting some putts.
“It’s just one of those days you’ve got to grind it out, take your pars and go to the next hole.”
Lewis expected the afternoon to be especially challenging for Jutanugarn, a long-hitting whose style is to go aggressively at the pins. That approach helped her card nine birdies in the first round.
“She plays without fear,” Lewis said. “She swings at it hard and she hits it and she goes and finds it. … It will be a little different in the wind, so I think maybe she’ll bring it back a little bit, hopefully.”
Jutanugarn, who leads the Ladies European Tour money list and has finished no worse than fourth in her three prior starts on the LPGA Tour, surely turned heads with how she turned it around after a balky start in the second round.
She hopes the weekend brings more surprises.
“I think I have to focus on every chance to even have a chance to hit the shot, but I don’t think I’m going to win tournament or I’m going to lose tournament,” she said. “Everybody have a chance to win, so I still have chance to win, too.”