Sung Ah Yim of Seoul, Korea carded a 1-under-par 71 today to quietly get the job done and stay on course while others appeared to self-destruct on The Pines Country Club's firm and quick greens and thick rough. But her four-under-par, two-round total of 140 required considerable effort.
'I just concentrated on every shot,' said Yim, 20, a rookie who has posted nine top-10 finishes and holds the No. 6 position on the Tour's money list. A win on Sunday would push her into the top five with three tournaments remaining, giving Yim a solid chance of earning one of the five LPGA Tour cards awarded to the season's top performers.
But first things first. She still has to close out her first professional win in the U.S. And she still has to get past some stiff competition hovering only one shot back.
Liz Earley of St. Catharine's, Ontario also carded a 71 to move into a tie at three-under-par 141 with Virada Nirapathpongporn of Bangkok, Thailand, who struggled mightily today, but eagled the last hole with a chip-in from 15 yards. The former Duke star took her two-over 74 and was grateful that the day had mercifully ended.
'To be able to come back like I did is nice,' said Nirapathpongporn, who had five bogeys, one birdie and one eagle for the day. 'I finally woke up on the back nine and remembered what I was out here to do.'
As for Earley, she relied on her veteran's patience and a handful of 'safety putts' to roll her long putts 'anywhere near the hole.' The Canadian bogeyed the first hole when she pulled a pitching wedge and didn't get up and down for par, but she rallied with birdies on No. 5 and No. 8. With bogeys on No. 10 and No. 11, Earley knew she'd better find a way to stop the bleeding soon on a course in which the pin placements had plenty of slope and the greens rendered considerable punishment.
'On this golf course, patience is huge,' she said. 'I could have gotten ticked off and lost it but I knew there were some birdie chances ahead.'
Sure enough, Earley dropped in a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 16, took a solid par on the day's toughest-playing hole -- the 209-yard, par-three 17th -- and hit her 7-iron to six feet on the 18th hole for birdie.
Earley recorded 32 putts and was grateful. Malinda Johnson of Eau Claire, Wis., had 33 putts and was kicking herself all the way from the 18th green to the scorer's table. Johnson grabbed the tournament lead briefly with a birdie on the 11th hole. But the lefty promptly gave the lead back to Yim on the 12th, then double-bogeyed the 16th with a three-putt green that pushed her into a tie at two-under 142 with Anna Knutsson of Malmo, Sweden. Knutsson posted a second-round 70 on the par-72, 6,287-yard course.
'I hit it better than I scored,' said Johnson, a rookie, who hit 15 greens and 10 fairways. 'These greens are getting so fast that you have to stroke it perfectly to have a chance. I didn't hit it outside 10 to 15 feet all day and I struggled with the putter.'
But while a few players scrapped and clawed to stay in the game, a few others lost strokes early and never could catch up. First-round co-leader Melanie Holmes-Smith of Melbourne, Australia, stumbled with an 80 and dropped into a tie for 28th at 147. Michelle Simpson of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., carded a four-over 76 to go from three behind the leaders to six back. Only 14 players broke par in the second round and only Danielle Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., cracked the 70s, firing a 69 to move into a tie at even par-144.
All of this prompted veteran player Marianne Morris of Middletown, Ohio, to sum up the day's results: 'There's a lot of carnage out there today.'
Indeed, it wasn't pretty. But this 13th annual tournament nestled in the West Virginia mountains has a long history of surprise endings. Whether it will be the quiet Korean earning her first U.S. title, the veteran Canadian winning for the first time in two years, the former college star capturing her first win as a pro or any of the chasers snatching the victory in a come-from-behind charge, it's certain to go down in tournament lore. Now, if only the field can hold off those speedy greens and ruthless rough.
Seventy-five players in the 144-player field made the 36-hole cut at 151 (+7).
Sundays final round of the 54-hole tournament will begin at 8 a.m., off the first tee. The leaders will tee off at 11:36 a.m.