WRAP: Youth shines at The Grange

Madelene Sagstrom
Madelene Sagstrom has joined the lead after day two at The Grange.

On day two the apparently indestructible Karrie Webb faded, a double bogey from under a pine tree at the par-three 14th encapsulating her day. The time was right for some youth to shine at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and they were more than ready.

Wei-Ling Hsu is just 24 and emerging as Taiwan’s best player, having followed in raptures her predecessor Yani Tseng’s triumphal progress a few years ago, struggling with her diminutive size to see the object of her admiration in the incredible crowds that flocked to see Tseng at home.

Her appearance at the top of the leaderboard for the second night should not surprise; she is ranked 69th in the world and was close to the top 30 on the LPGA Tour money list last year. She also finished fifth in the US Women’s Open. She has serious game and after her brilliant, opening 65 she backed up with 69 today.

She has written just one bogey on her card in two days of golf which tells quite a story.

Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden picked her way around The Grange in 67 today to join Hsu at the top late in the day at 10-under.

Sagstrom made more than $US200,000 on the LPGA Tour last year and at 26, continues to accelerate her career. Today she conjured what she felt was her best-ever putting round to get the business done. “I literally have never rolled a putter better, probably,” she said. “My speed was phenomenal.  So, I knew as soon as I was on the green that I had a birdie chance, which is an awesome feeling. So, I played very free. I was very accepting. I took my medicine when I needed to, and I just stayed calm all day. And it was just really nice to be out there.”

Immediately behind that pair is a group that includes two more of the new wave, the

22-year-old Perth professional Hannah Green and America’s hugely-talented 20-year-old Nelly Korda, already one of the best players in the world, as well as former winner Haru Nomura of Japan.

“I’m very pleased,” said Green. “Last week I shot a good opening round at the Vic Open, then on the Friday I just had one of those days where nothing really went for me. So I was a little nervous about today’s round.”

Green played in the final group at Kooyonga in last year’s Open, and finished third. It was the beginning of an excellent year for her, a season in which she made her way on the main tour, suffered all the difficulties common to young touring professionals in the early part of their careers, but retained her card.

Coached by Ritchie Smith who also mentors Minjee Lee, she continues to emerge -- with Lee -- as one of Australia’s best young players. “I didn’t want to expect too much, but I know I have a good past history the last two years of playing this event, so I definitely have good vibes when I come to Adelaide, which is fortunate,’’ she said. “But yes, after last week, I think I was probably a bit more nervous than I was, compared to last year.”

Korda has an amusing connection with this event. This week, she said she felt “so left out of it” when her family talked around the dinner table about the Australian Opens of golfing and tennis variety, since her father Petr won the tennis version, and her elder sister Jessica won the golf Open, plus her brother Sebastian won the boys’ title at the tennis Open.

But soon enough she might be able to talk in those terms. Her power has the capacity to destroy old courses like The Grange; she shot 66 today, and on Thursday her drive at the par-four 18th almost reached the crosswalk for spectators, a place meant to be out of reach, just 55 metres from the green.

As for Hsu, she has come into the season with a mature attitude. “I think I learned a lot from that, how to play under the pressure,” she said. “That’s made me a little stronger this year and more able to focus on my game. That’s what I learned from last year.”

The 44-year-old Webb, who had lit up the crowd with her opening 67, had a much tougher time today, carding a 74 that left here back in the pack at three-under.  She birdied her first hole but made a few mistakes, and tucked left of the green and dead at the par-three 14th, she could only punch her ball across the putting surface and into a bunker. A five resulted.

The crowds pulled for her more than anyone; there is still nobody who moves the needle more in golf here.

Australia’s top-ranked player Minjee Lee improved, carding a two-under par 70 that leaves her at three-under overall, and not necessarily out of the running.

World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn fired on day two, carding a 69 to haul herself inside the cut-line, but Kiwi Lydia Ko had a poor day and will miss the weekend along with Georgia Hall of England.

 

LEADERBOARD

-10 Hsu (Taiwan), Sagstrom (Sweden)

-7 Green (Australia), Nomura (Japan), Korda (USA)

-6 Ewart Shadoff (England)

-5 Liu (China), Law (England), Tamulis (USA)

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WOMEN'S AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Pos.CountryPlayer TotalToday
1 USA N.Korda -17-5
2 KOR J.Ko -15-8
3 TPE W.Hsu -12-4
T4 JPN H.Nomura -11-2
T4 USA A.Yin -11-6
T6 ESP A.Munoz -10-7
T6 CAN A.Sharp -10-4
T8 ENG J.Ewart Shadoff -9-1