Mo Martin picked an opportune time to grab her first lead after any round of an LPGA event.
The 31-year-old American, who spent six years playing the Symetra Tour to give herself a chance like this, leads the Ricoh Women’s British Open through two rounds at Royal Birkdale.
With a birdie at the last on Friday, Martin closed out another 3-under-par 69, leaving her three shots ahead of South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu (70) and Spain’s Beatriz Recari (67).
Martin might be ranked No. 99 in the world, but she’s No. 1 in driving accuracy on the LPGA tour this year, and that’s proving a vital skill in navigating Royal Birkdale and its punishing routes through thick heather and gorse.
Martin, a UCLA graduate who helped the Bruins win a national title, has a lone top-10 finish in her three seasons playing the LPGA. She tied for third at the Kia Classic two years ago. In 12 previous major championship starts, her best finish is a tie for 30th at the LPGA Championship as a rookie in 2012.
At just 5 feet 2, Martin ranks only 156th on tour in driving distance, averaging 234 yards a drive, but she hits more fairways than anyone on tour. She came into this week hitting 86 percent of the fairways she played. This week’s confining setup immediately appealed to her, with Martin saying it ranks among her top five favorites.
Martin’s grandfather would have loved seeing this. He was her biggest fan and a remarkable character known to many LPGA pros until his death back in March. Lincoln Martin, Mo’s grandfather, died battling prostate and skin cancer. He was 100 years old when he followed her around in events her rookie year and 102 when he died.
Martin isn’t the only long-shot American in contention. Amelia Lewis, No. 185 in the Rolex world rankings, is tied for sixth, five shots off the lead despite a double bogey at the last hole.