Mid-way through the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, at -12 for the tournament South Korean Ilhee Lee holds a thin 1 shot lead over her closest challenger, American Lexi Thompson.
Lee, who had set a personal goal of 3 shots under par for each tournament round, has now exceeded her goals. What will she do tomorrow? If she keeps up the pace she’s set in the 1st and 2nd rounds, she’ll go to the clubhouse at around 18 shots under par for the tournament. Can she do it? Would that keep her in the lead?
Ilhee Lee’s Out-Putting Everybody, So Far
Ilhee Lee followed her opening, bogey-free round of 64 with a 2nd round of 65. Her drives aren’t especially long. She’s averaged 239 yards for the tournament, shorter than Suzanne Pettersen, who’s averaged 245 yards, and Stacy Lewis, who’s averaged 244 yards for the tourney, just about equivalent to Shanshan Feng.
Nor is Lee more accurate than the LPGA Tour leaders. She’s hit 20 out of 28 fairways during the first 2 rounds of the Sime Darby. That’s about 71%. Pettersen’s hitting fairways at at rate of 86%, Lewis at 75% and Feng at 82%. In other words, Pettersen, Lewis, and Feng are all outplaying Ilhee Lee off the tees, and they’re all trailing, Feng by 3 shots, Pettersen by 6, and Lewis by 8 shots.
It’s Not How You Drive . . .
Of course, getting off the tee is only the first step, but a good long drive to the center of the short grass certainly makes the next steps easier. Lee’s gotten to the greens in regulation 30 out of 36 times during the first 2 rounds of the Sime Darby. That’s about 83% of the time, a respectable success rate. But Feng, at 94%, is well ahead of Lee and Pettersen, at 86%, is doing a little better. Lewis, at 64%, is getting outplayed.
Is it all boiling down to the performance of the flat sticks? Inbee Park might agree. Her putter, on fire for months, suddenly cooled off and no matter what she did, Park couldn’t get up and down and watched her scores rise and wins elude her. Illhee Lee has averaged 26.5 putts per round, or boiled down even further, 1.5 putts per hole.
Once she gets on the green, Lewis is putting equivalent to Lee, but it’s taking her a bit longer to get there. Pettersen and Feng have averaged 30.5 putts per round, 1.7 per hole. That’s not going to win the Sime Darby if Ilhee Lee keeps up the pace she’s established on the putting surface.
The action’s not all at the top at the Sime Dabry. A bit further down the leaderboard, South Korean Amy Yang set a new tournament record for 18 holes after she finished Friday’s second round with a 9-under 62 on the East Course at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. Yang’s round included 10 birdies and one bogey and was her career-low score by two shots and best round this season by four strokes. The round jumped the South Korean from T48 at the start of the day into a tie for sixth.
Despite a fairly ugly double bogey in her 1st round, Japan’s 19-year old Mamiko Higa, winner of the 2013 JLPGA Yamaha Ladies Open Katsuragi, is holding her own on the big stage. With 2 sub-par rounds on her cards, 68 and 66, Higa is at -6 for the tournament and in a 3-way tie with South Koreans Amy Yang and So Yeon Ryu for 6th place. That’s not a bad place to be for a youngster making her first LPGA appearance.
The Sime Darby: It’s About More Than Golf
The 4 Malaysians playing at the Sime Dabry, Michelle Kho, Aretha Pan, Cindy Lee-Pridgen, and Ainil Johani, are down toward the bottom on the leaderboard, but they’re playing golf with world-class athletes and representing their country in an international tournament. It takes courage to get off the porch and play with the big dogs and I applaud them. They’ll finish the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia and become the LPGA’s strongest local partners for next year and for years to come as the game of golf reaches further and engages more players and fans.
We often forget, in the heat of competition, that golf has the power to transform individual lives and strengthen communities. The Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia is a showcase for the best of women golfers. Like all LPGA tournaments, the Sime Darby also raises money for a local charity. Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) is the official charity of Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia and is Malaysia’s first independent cancer research laboratory dedicated to cancer research in Malaysia. Its mission is to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.
Unfortunately cancer touches the lives of everyone at some stage and that only reaffirms the importance of the work undertaken by organizations such as CARIF in trying to find cures. The tournament does a fantastic job in raising awareness and funds for the battle against breast cancer in Malaysia . . .
Christie Kerr, Birdies for Breast Cancer Founder and Sponsor
Beatriz Recari, Christie Kerr, Shanshan Feng, and Charley Hull took time before the start of the Sime Darby to help the CARIF initiative. They went head to head on a make-shift putting green to raise funds for CARIF, before answering questions on the tournament and life as professional golfers from the general public in a question and answer session hosted by top local DJ Joanne Kam. Pro golfers like Recari, Kerr, Feng and Hull do more than play golf.
The 3rd round at the Sime Darby rolls out in a couple of hours. You can watch it on The Golf Channel tonight, starting at 12:30am, if you can stay awake, or watch the delayed broadcast tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll be back tomorrow with a 3rd round wrap-up and a peek at the final round as well.