BELLEAIR, Fla. (AP) – Lexi Thompson birded four of her last five holes for a 6-under 64 on Friday to share the lead with Jennifer Kupcho as the Pelican Women’s Championship weekend begins.
A grand prize was awarded when Pavarisa Yoktuan made a hole-in-one with an 8-iron on the 145-yard 12th hole and won a two-year lease on a Lamborghini.
Christina Kim also felt like a winner, although her work is not done yet. Kim missed qualifying on Monday, received a late sponsorship waiver, and responded with laps of 65-66 to be just two strokes behind the lead.
This is a big deal for Kim because she is # 98 in the Race to the CME Globe and only the top 100 keep full tickets for the next year after that event. She would have to win – something Kim hasn’t done in seven years – to get into the top 60 and advance to the CME Group Tour Championship next week.
At the moment she was floating in the air, not an easy task for a 37-year-old who referred to herself as “Old Betty” who “can just whack around occasionally and find the bottom of the cup every now and then”.
“It turns out I’m a bit of a control freak. So I’m not in control of my own destiny, not a huge fan of that,” said Kim. “So when I knew I could control my own destiny, I could just focus on getting the job done.”
Nothing has been decided yet for Kim or anyone else.
Kupcho, who was runner-up on the LPGA Tour for the past three years while still trying to claim her first title, ran four birdies in a six-hole course around the corner for a 64 that set the target on 11-under 129.
“I don’t know if I necessarily figured it out,” said Kupcho, who had 12 birdies on her last 28 holes. “I just hit really good iron shots and get myself in a good position on the greens.”
Thompson played in the afternoon and finished strong, her only flaw down the line being a bogey on the par four eighth hole. She has not won the ShopRite LPGA Classic more than two years ago and has slipped to 13th place in the women’s world rankings.
Nine players were separated by two shots at halftime at Pelican Golf Club.
Leona Maguire of Ireland cooled off slightly after her opening 62 and had a 68 to join Wie-Ling Hsu (64). The group that made another setback included Mi Yang Lee (62), Matilda Castren (64), world number one Nelly Korda (66) and defending champion Sei Young Kim (67).
“I think there will probably be a shootout over the weekend,” said Maguire. “If that’s the case, just try to do as many birdies as you can and keep your foot down and see where he stands at the end of the weekend.”
Jin Young Ko, who has won four of her last seven starts on the LPGA, had a 66 to get back into the picture. The South Korean start was five shots back.
Emma Talley overcame a bogey-bogey start for another 70 to cut off the number that matters to her as she is number 60 in the Race to the CME Globe. The top 60 move into the season finale next week, where everyone starts from zero with $ 1.5 million at stake.
As for Yoktuan, this hole-in-one left her six shots behind and still a long shot to hold a full card next year as the Thai ranks 158th overall. It also has to decide whether the Lamborghini will be paid out in any form.
That’s not to say that she’s against strong cars. She drove a BMW until she recently had an accident. Your new means of transport? “A motorcycle,” she said.