The 2002 NCAA champion and 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur champion birdied the first hole, adding three more birdies and two bogeys en route to her 2-under-par round of 70 at Palm View Golf Course. At a cumulative 8-under-par 136, the native of Bangkok, Thailand admitted that she knew patience would be a key ingredient when she started today's second round.
'I knew today was going to be much different than yesterday because the wind was strong,' said Nirapathpongporn, a second-year member of the Futures Golf Tour still seeking her first professional win. 'It blew from the opposite direction than it blew in the previous round, so it teased us all day.'
Typically blowing from the Southeast, today's Northeast winds kept players guessing and shuffling clubs. First-round leader Nicole Castrale used a 6-iron on the 186-yard, par-3 17th hole in Friday's calm opening round, but was forced to use her TaylorMade Rescue Club today -- a club she normally pulls for 200-yard shots.
'You had to stay patient,' said Castrale, who played in the same final pairing with Nirapathpongporn and former University of Southern California roommate, Becky Lucidi of Poway, Calif. 'Today, it felt like a different golf course -- sometimes by as much as one to one and half clubs.'
Castrale, of Palm Desert, Calif., carded a second-round score of 1-over 73 to drop into second place at 6-under 138, while Lucidi posted a 1-under 71 today for a two-day total of 139 (-5).
'I had one [mental lapse] on No. 17, but other than that, I played really solid,' said Lucidi, winner of the 2002 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship who is competing this week in her first Futures Tour event. 'It's always fun to play with great players.'
Lucidi, Nirapathpongporn and Castrale were within smacking distance of each other throughout Saturday's second round. Castrale held the lead for the first three holes, but Nirapathpongporn birdied the third hole and Castrale bogeyed the fourth for the two players to draw even at 7 under par. When Castrale bogeyed the fifth hole, Nirapathpongporn grabbed a one-shot lead until the Californian rolled in a birdie on the 12th for a tie once again.
But Castrale knew the former four-time All-American from Duke wasn't going to coast.
'Good players will never give up,' said Castrale, who hit 15 greens, but struggled with 34 putts today. 'You know you have to go out firing because they're going to keep fighting.'
And Nirapathpongporn certainly put up her dukes. While the Thai player birdied the 13th hole, Castrale bogeyed, giving NP3 (as she is often called) a two-shot lead over Castrale and Lucidi, who also birdied the 13th. NP3 rolled in another birdie from 19 feet on the 14th for a two-shot lead over Lucidi, who again matched birdies with Nirapathpongporn.
But just as it appeared that Lucidi was picking up momentum heading into the final four holes, the Californian pushed her 5-wood tee shot far right on the 17th hole and fumbled two chip shots in recovery attempt. With a double-bogey 5 on the par-3, Lucidi fell three shots behind the leader on the day's toughest-playing hole.
'I really don't get too mad on the golf course,' she said. 'I just told myself that I have 19 holes left in this tournament.'
Rookie professional Mollie Fankhauser of Columbus, Ohio, playing in her third tournament as a pro, carded her second consecutive round of 70 and pulled into a tie for fourth with Su A Kim of Seoul, Korea at 140 (-4).
The day's best rounds came from three players now tied for sixth at 141 (-3). Alena Sharp of Hamilton, Ontario fired today's low round of 67, while Meredith Ward of Crystal Lake, Ill., carded a 68, and Libby Smith posted a 69 in the second round.
Seventy-three players made the 36-hole cut at 151 (+7).
Sunday's final round will begin at 8 a.m., off the first tee only. The leaders will tee off at 11:36 a.m.