Rain Rally: Higa holds onto U.S. Women’s Open lead after delay

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Mamiko Higa of Japan birdied three of her final six holes following a nearly two-hour weather delay to shoot an even-par 71 and maintain a one-shot lead Friday in the suspended second round of the U.S. Women’s Open.

A day after shooting a 65 for the lowest debut round in tournament history, Higa was a stroke behind Jessica Korda when thunderstorms and lightning caused play to be suspended at the Country Club of Charleston. When things resumed, Higa rediscovered her first-round touch to regain the lead over Korda at 6 under with a 14-footer on her final hole.

There were 45 players on the course when play was halted due to darkness. They’ll finish Saturday before third-round play starts.

Korda shot a 68, her lowest score in 38 career rounds in the major tournament.

American amateur Gina Kim had a 72 to join Celine Boutier of France at 4 under. Boutier had four holes to play.

Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda, Jessica’s younger sister, were among four players at 3 under. Thompson has two holes to play, and the younger Korda three. Also at 3 under were American Jaye Marie Green and South Korea’s Jeongeun Lee6. Green shot a 68 and Lee6 — who adopted her unique name after the Korean LPGA dubbed her with it because five other players had registered with the same name — a 69.

Two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park was among a group of eight at 2 under after her second straight 70.

World No. 1 Jin Young Ko was at even par after a 70 while defending tournament champion Ariya Jutanugarn was a 2 over with two holes left.

Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., was through 14 holes when play was suspended. She was tied for 31st at 1 over.

The projected cut line was 3 over, with Megan Osland of Kelowna, B.C., as well as amateurs Celeste Dao of Notre-Dame-de-l’Ile-Perrot, Que., and Victoria’s Naomi Ko above it..

Higa struggled through much of her round before the rains came. She immediately got going after the long break by rolling in an 11-foot birdie putt to tie Korda at the top. Higa’s final two birdies on the par five fifth and ninth holes regained the lead for her each time.

Higa stumbled with a three-putt bogey on the seventh hole to again fall into a tie with Korda. But on the her final hole with darkness closing in, Higa confidently struck from 14 feet to head into the clubhouse with the 36-hole lead at the season’s second major.

“Because I could finish up a tough day with a birdie,” she said through an interpreter, “and so I was so happy.”

Jessica Korda finished her bogey-free performance — just her fifth sub-70 showing in 38 career rounds of this major — well before thunderstorms caused a nearly two-hour weather delay.

Jessica Korda, playing in milder morning conditions, did not get her round going until making a birdie on the par-5 15th hole — she opened on the back nine — and followed that with another on the par-3 17th.

Her final birdie came on the par-5 fifth and came just short of the green in two, then chipped up within three feet to move to 5-under as she finished before Higa teed off.

Jessica Korda planned to be more aggressive on the par fives and accomplished that with birdies on two of the tree on Charleston’s par-71 layout. She left her approach on the final par-5, the ninth hole, about 40 feet away and settled for par.

Jessica Korda was happy with her approach to not get ahead of herself. “It’s a U.S. Open,” she said. “Patience is the name of the game.”

New professionals Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi were both inside the projected cut line of 3 over with holes remaining. Kupcho, the Augusta National women’s amateur champion was at even par with three holes left. Fassi, the NCAA women’s individual champ, was 3 over with three holes remaining.

There was a massive lightning strike during the delay, hitting a large tree alongside the 18th fairway with a loud boom that sounded like an explosion that was heard throughout the clubhouse area where players, caddies and tournament staffers and volunteers took shelter.

“It was very scary. I’m glad everyone was okay,” said Emma Talley, who won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur here and is competing this week. “I was scared it hit one of the tents, but I’m glad it hit the tree instead.”


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