The South Koreans seem determined to make their return home a victory parade next week.
With a 6-under-par 65 Friday, So Yeon Ryu took the second-round lead at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in a bid to give her homeland its fourth LPGA title in a row and its seventh in the last eight events.
The LPGA returns to South Korea next week for the KEB-HanaBank Championship in Incheon, where the week should begin festively with Monday's wedding of the country’s top player, Inbee Park.
Ryu is two strokes ahead of New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who shot 64 as she seeks to win her third LPGA title this year and overtake Stacy Lewis as the new Rolex world No. 1. Japan’s Ayako Uehara, who shot the day’s best round (63), is also two back with England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff (64) and South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji (67).
Spain’s Azahara Munoz, who won the LaCoste Open in France on the Ladies European Tour last week, is three shots back along with China’s Shanshan Feng (67) and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum (67).
Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis (71) is five shots back.
Ko, 17, put herself in position once again to become the youngest No. 1 in the history of women’s golf. If she wins this weekend and Lewis finishes T-12 or worse, Ko will move atop the world rankings. Lewis enters the weekend tied for 11th.
Ryu, the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open winner, is seeking her second LPGA title this year, but she arrived in Malaysia frustrated over a closing 77 in China last weekend that left her tied for 19th.
“Actually, last week, my [swing] was just, oh my God, just horrible, awful,” Ryu told reporters in Malaysia after her round. “I have my coach here this week, and I’ve been working on something with him since Monday.”
With temperatures reaching 95 degrees in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, Ryu said she felt herself wilting at round’s end. She birdied five of her first seven holes in a strong start but played the final five holes in 1 over. The heat looks like it will be a factor in an endurance test this weekend.
The South Koreans started the year uncharacteristically slow, failing to win an LPGA title until Park won the Manulife Financial Classic in June. Ever since they eliminated the Americans from the International Crown in a dramatic Saturday playoff in July, the South Koreans have been on a roll. Park and Hyo Joo Kim won the final two majors of the year as part of the country’s run winning six of the last seven LPGA events.