Hannah is a palindrome. It’s spelled the same way forward and backward. And for Hannah Green, Friday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship looked a lot like her opening effort at Hazeltine National as her short game once again bordered on magical. But no matter how you read it, Hannah is the leader after 36 holes, three strokes clear of two-time major winner Ariya Jutanugarn.
On Thursday, Green used the putter only 23 times, making bunches of par saves after hitting only nine greens. The magic came when she holed a bunker shot for birdie on her 16th hole. On Friday, the 22-year-old Australian hit 13 greens and used 27 putts on her way to a 69 on top of a 68, making her the only player with two rounds under 70 on a Hazeltine course that’s a true major championship test.
Green’s 36-hole total of seven under-par 137 was posted early and held up, although it was threatened late with a determined run by Jutanugarn, who got as low as six under par before finishing with a 70 to be at four-under-par 140.
Defending KPMG Women’s PGA champion Sung Hyun Park enters the weekend with a chance to keep her title, sitting in third place at 141 with Lydia Ko.
Nelly Korda is at 142 with Angel Yin while Lizette Salas, Moriya Jutanugarn, Xiyu Lin, Jimin Kang, Caroline Hedwall, Nuria Iturrioz, Hyo Joo Kim, Pernilla Lindberg and Lexi Thompson are at 143.
Michelle Wie, who broke down in tears during her interview after shooting 84 on Thursday in her first tournament appearance in two months, played the second round in 82 strokes and was well outside the cut number of 149, making no birdies and frequently rubbing her surgically repaired right wrist.
“Not great,” Wie said when asked how her hand felt. “But even on the worse day it’s great being out here. I was just a little optimistic about the state of my wrist. In an ideal world, I’d wake up and be fine and play next week. Going to go back and figure out what’s next.”
Green started her day with a bogey on No. 1 – the first blemish on her scorecard for the championship – but birdied Nos. 2, 6, 8 and 14. The magic for Green on this day came on No. 12, a 429-yard par-4 with water tucked short and right of the green, which is where her second shot landed.
“I actually didn't even notice the hazard yesterday or in the practice round,” Green said. “ I don't know what I was doing on that hole. But I knew there was a chance of it going into the hazard but I was pretty disciplined and obviously it went in there said to my caddy I need to get it close as possible.”
Green did better than get it close. After a penalty drop, her ball nestled down in the rough but she gouged it out with a wedge, the ball landing well short of the hole, releasing and rolling straight in for a par save that more than matched her miracle birdie from the bunker on No. 7 in the previous round.
“When it went in I just laughed because I guess with the hole-out on 7 yesterday and with the hole-out today, it's really going my way,” Green said. “So, yeah, just nice to at least be getting some luck on the course. I had to land it perfectly and I guess I did. I really wasn't really watching it going into the hole. I just heard the crowd roar.”
There was one thing on Friday that was not a repeat of Thursday – this time Green brought along rain pants. When an afternoon storm rolled through during the first round, Green was woefully unprepared and she and her caddie were bailed out by Hazeltine staff who brought them towels.
“Pretty much after yesterday's rain, I was going to wear pants,” she said. “Had plenty of towels, had everything that I needed if there was to be rain.”
The overwhelming difference for Green is that she’s never been this well positioned of this big of a stage going into the weekend. Yet, she’s handled the attention with remarkable poise.
“Even when you play this type of golf at just a regular event you're pretty proud of yourself,” she said. “But this week especially, I've never put myself in this position in any event so to be doing it this week at such a great venue definitely shows things are going the right way. I have had some luck going my way. I do hope that continues.”
Hannah is spelled the same way forward and backward. And come Sunday, Hannah Green would like to see her name exactly where it is as the KPMG Women’s PGA enters the weekend – on top of the leaderboard. Chasing her, however, is a large collection of very big names, none of whom are palindromes but all of who are scary.