HARTFORD, Conn. — Déjà vu at the Girls Junior PGA Championship. A familiar name is situated atop the leaderboard.
Rose Zhang of Irvine, Calif., posted a personal-best, second-round 63 to reach 130 through 36 holes at Keney Park Golf Course. Zhang, who won this event in 2017 and finished runner-up a year ago, also set the lowest 36-hole tally in the Championship’s 44-year history.
“I was pretty concentrated on the course today,” said the 16-year-old Zhang. “I didn’t feel any nerves and wasn’t looking at other scores, which helped keep me in check. I managed to shoot a pretty good score.”
A missed five-foot par on her 18th hole cost Zhang a 62. Still, Zhang remains in prime position as she enters the third round one clear of Sara Im and Phoebe Brinker (131).
“I didn’t feel this number was out there today,” said Zhang. “After playing nine holes, I didn’t really feel like I shot 5-under on the front. On the back, I was trying to maintain and stay aggressive.”
Rose Zhang plays her second shot at the 10th hole during the second round of the 44th Girls Junior PGA Championship held at Keney Park Golf Course on July 10, 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut.
Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America
Beginning her round on Keney Park’s back nine, Zhang’s front-nine 30 was highlighted by a challenging eagle putt on the 478-yard, par-5 14th. Zhang struck a 3-wood from 219 yards into the center of the green, leaving her with a 25-foot look.
“I was trying not to three-putt,” said Zhang. “The putt had a really big downhill break. I was just trying to get it past the hole and close enough for a birdie opportunity. It rolled in. It was just that kind of day.”
Zhang finished with six birdies, one eagle and one bogey.
One stroke back of Zhang in a tie for second is Im of Duluth, Ga., whose second-round 66 was quite the roller coaster. Im totaled nine birdies on Wednesday, but three bogeys and one double-bogey hindered what could have been a historic day.
“After my double (on 14), I told myself to get more birdie chances,” said Im, who won the 12-13 Division in the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. “If you put the ball in the right spots, you can shoot well on this course. Birdieing my last hole gives me confidence going into tomorrow.”
Brinker, who started on the back nine, kept paced with Im by also carding a 66. With three birdies through her first five holes, it appeared she was heading right back to the top of the leaderboard. A bogey at No. 16 derailed her momentum, but she rallied with a couple birdies on Nos. 2 and 6 to close out her round.
“The greens were definitely harder (than the first round),” said Brinker, who lives in Wilmington, Del. “I started very well, but I wasn’t hitting it very close and lost the putter for a few holes. But I was playing with two great girls (Megan Schofill and Annabelle Pancake), so we had fun all day. That helped the nerves go away.”
Twenty-four hours after Brinker, Im and Yuka Saso tied Keney Park’s lowest 18-hole score by a woman (65), Zhang’s 63 surpassed the group as the lowest – for all of three hours. Megha Ganne of Holmdel, N.J., jumped Zhang with a bogey-free 62. With eight birdies, Ganne’s 18-hole score is also the lowest in Girls Junior PGA Championship history.
Ganne reflected, “My dad asked me yesterday when I was going to give him a bogey-free round. He’s been asking me since I was eight years old. He wasn’t here today, but I finally got one.
“Off the tee, I felt really confident. I was driving it 20 yards further than I normally do, so I had shorter irons coming in all day. By default, I was just closer to the hole.”
Ganne, in solo fifth, climbed 55 spots on Wednesday and trails Zhang by four strokes following her 72-62 start.
Saso, a resident of the Philippines, is alone in fourth place after carding a second-round 68. She faces a three-stroke deficit.
Seventy-six players advanced to the final two rounds with the cut at 145.
At 10-under par through two rounds, Zhang has reached 50-under through her 10 career Girls Junior PGA rounds. Her victory in 2017 came at 20-under, and she repeated her performance in 2018, minus the victory (Yealimi Noh finished 24-under par). She credits her performances to the Championship’s atmosphere and her drive to be aggressive.
“This Championship has some of the best players from all states,” said Zhang. “Some other tournaments we play are based only on rankings, but at this tournament, there’s new people you meet from each state and make new friendships.
“It’s really hard to be consistent. I feel like each year is a new challenge. Staying consistent means staying more aggressive with your game and trying to improve.”