MIAMI (AFP) – Austin Ernst fired a bogey-free five-under par 67 yesterday to maintain a share of the lead alongside Jennifer Kupcho at the halfway stage of the US LPGA Drive On Championship in Ocala, Florida.
Kupcho, who started the day tied for the lead with Ernst and Nelly Korda, had six birdies and a bogey in her second-round 67 to join Ernst on 10-under 134 – two shots clear of Spain’s Carlota Ciganda who fired an impressive bogey-free round of seven-under 65 for an eight-under total of 136.
Korda, coming off a victory at the Gainbridge LPGA last week, stayed in touch with the leaders with a two-under 70 that left her alone in fourth on 137, two strokes in front of American Jenny Coleman (69).
Ernst got off to a quick start with birdies at the 10th and 12th holes. She picked up another shot at 18 before taking sole possession of the lead at nine-under with a birdie at the third.
She added one more birdie at the par-five seventh – her 16th of the day.
“You get quite a few wedge opportunities, so you have to take advantage of it with how firm the greens are, especially some of the par-3s where it’s kind of hard to get it close or even hold the green like on 11,” Ernst said.
“But I feel like I’ve driven it well. The only drive that I kind of missed the fairway today was on eight, and I put myself behind a tree and then made a good up and down from the bunker to save par.”
Ernst, who won the second of her two LPGA titles at the NW Arkansas Championship in August, said she has good memories from her prior appearances at Golden Ocala, with a ninth-place finish in 2015 and a 13th place in 2016.
“It just seems to set up well for me, whether it’s a lot of the tee shots and going into the greens I kind of have a good idea of how they break.”
Kupcho, chasing her first LPGA title, said she was feeling much better after battling through a debilitating migraine headache to claim a share of the first-round lead.
“I would say yesterday was pretty rough,” Kupcho waid. “The whole back nine I just pretty much wanted to get off the golf course and go lay down, and pretty much felt that way the rest of the day.”
With that behind her and a share of the lead heading into the weekend, the former amateur world number one is now focused on what she needs to do to claim her maiden LPGA trophy.
“Just go out and relax and have fun,” she said of the key to victory. “I think especially with my new caddie this year we do a good job of having fun and relaxing, so I think it’ll be a fun weekend and I’m just going to go out and play my best.”
Ciganda’s early wakeup call heralded an outstanding day on the 6,526-yard, Golden Ocala layout, where her seven birdies included four in a row at the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.