Eighteen-time LPGA Tour winner Lydia Ko backed up her first-round 65 with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 at the CME Group Tour Championship to take a five-stroke lead after 36 holes. Her 131 is her lowest 36-hole score since the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open in July, where she posted a two-day total of 130 and ultimately finished in a tie for fifth. Ko, who has only missed one fairway over the past two days, opened with pars on her first five holes, but notched two birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 to get her round going. She went on to post four more birdies on her back nine, on 10, 11, 14 and 17, and had an unfortunate lip out on the final hole to close with her 66, her 27th score in the 60s in her last 35 rounds.
“I think I stayed really patient out there today. Obviously not bogeying the first was a better start than yesterday,” said Ko. “But, with the wind direction being pretty similar and the strength being similar, I felt like I already knew going into the day that it could be tricky, but at the same time because I played really solid on the back nine, I knew that if I did make any mistakes, there were birdie-able holes coming in.”
This is Ko’s 11th time holding the 36-hole lead on Tour, and she has gone on to win in four of those previous instances, including this past February at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. A victory would earn Ko her second Rolex Player of the Year honors, second consecutive Vare Trophy and a $2 million winner’s check, the largest in women’s golf, but she said she is focused on just playing footloose and fancy-free with two rounds left.
“That’s kind of the goal for me this week is to not let one hole or one shot phase me. This is the last tournament of the season. It’s my ninth year on Tour, so I want to finish the season well and also just want to finish it without any regrets,” said Ko. “You know, just playing freely out there. I think that’s a big key for me.”
Major champion Hyo Joo Kim sits in solo second at -8 overall, after carding four birdies and a single bogey that came on No. 4 at Tiburon Golf Club. Kim, who won her fifth Tour title at the LOTTE Championship presented by Hoakalei in April, earned her best finish at the season finale back in 2016 in her second appearance in the event, a tie for 16th. She’ll play in the final group with friend Ko on Saturday, looking to continue with the consistency she’s seen the last two days in Naples.
“I think when I play with someone who I’m close to, it will definitely be more fun,” said Kim, who has recorded four top-five finishes in her past eight events, dating back to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “And if I’m playing with a player who is playing well, I think I can follow that rhythm and also play well. So hopefully that’s going to be the case tomorrow.”
Four players sit in a tie for third at -8, including World No. 1 Nelly Korda. Korda went from a birdie on the first hole to a bogey on No. 3, and notched three birdies on 6, 7 and 9 before making the turn. Nine straight pars later, Korda’s 69 was enough to keep her squarely in the mix as she chases the lead on Moving Day.
“I’ve played in windier conditions. I’ve played in British where it’s been tougher where you can’t even get the ball in the air because it just takes it a mile,” said the Bradenton native. “Over the years you play in these conditions, the more you learn. I’ve grown up out here, so yeah.”
LPGA Tour winners Jeongeun Lee6, Leona Maguire and Amy Yang are tied for seventh at -6, while eight players sit in a tie for 10th, including this year’s Rolex ANNIKA Major Award winner, Minjee Lee, who posted a 4-under 68.
“When I started this morning, it was really windy, so I think I started with a string of pars and then made two birdies on the front nine and then had three birdies and a bogey on the back nine,” said Lee. “So, a pretty solid day. I wish I birdied 17 and parred 18, but it’s golf. So hopefully get it tomorrow.”
Defending champion Jin Young Ko is tied for 49th at +4 after a 3-over 75 on Friday, in a round that included two double bogeys on No. 2 and 15. Saturday play begins at 8 am ET.