Hye-Jin Choi, Pornanong Phatlum Helm Chase Group of In Gee Chun’s Historic Lead
In Gee Chun finished Thursday in her own stratosphere. Her eight-under par round gives her a five-shot lead over rookie Hye-Jin Choi, matching Mickey Wright’s largest first-round lead in a major at this tournament, the then LPGA Championship, in 1961. After Chun gained 12 strokes on the field, many players wondered what course Chun played compared to themselves.
Chun’s conjured scoring magic before on the major stage, setting the all-time major scoring record at the 2016 Evian Championship at 21-under par, where she posted a 63 in the first round. Her five-shot lead between first and second is the same gap between second and 50th after the opening round.
If the magic stops for the two-time major champion after Thursday, Hye-Jin Choi and Pornanong Phatlum remain the closest of the chase group. Both Choi and Phatlum went bogey-free for their rounds of 69, albeit in different fashions.
Choi’s followed up a strong performance on the major stage at the U.S. Women’s Open in Pine Needles earlier this month, where she posted a second-round 64 en route to a third-place finish. It’s her second top-5 finish in a major championship alongside a runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. The 22-year-old relishes the challenge that the marquee events on the LPGA calendar present.
“Especially in majors,” Choi said, “the course setup is difficult and different, and major courses aren't courses where you can just think easily, so you really have to be strategic on how you attack the courses and make sure you limit the mistakes.”
Phatlum matched Choi’s bogey-free effort with an eagle and a birdie to get to three-under. She aced the second hole of the day, an uphill 192-yard par 3, to move to two-under in a hurry with the sixth hole-in-one of her career.
“They [fans] just, screaming,” Phatlum explained of her reaction to the ace, “and then, just No. 2 was just starting, right, so I'm really excited at that time, and just tried to calm down and, yeah, played really good for today.”
The Thai native birdied the 16th to punctuate her bogey-free three-under effort. Phatlum holds two top-10s in majors in her career, with the most recent a runner-up at the 2018 Ricoh Women’s British Open. Phatlum kept her approach simple Thursday to maintain a clean scorecard.
“Just focus on every shot that I have to hit,” Phatlum explained, “Sometime just in center on the green. Not too aggressive. Just playing my game.”
Paula Reto and Jennifer Chang posted two-under to sit six behind Chun. Choi, Phatlum, Reto, and Chang are all searching for their first LPGA victories.
“I'm confident,” Reto said of her position, I'm going to try to do the same thing as I did today. Tomorrow I'll have the morning round. Let's hope for no rain. Then just have fun out there and enjoy it.”
A multitude of past KPMG Women’s PGA champions are seven back at one-under par. Brooke Henderson (2016), Hannah Green (2019), Sei Young Kim (2020), and defending champion Nelly Korda helm nine players sitting seven off Chun's mark.
None of it may matter at Chun’s blistering pace, but they remain lurking with 54 holes to play.