CHASKA, Minn. – Here come the big hitters.
They’re lining up in hot pursuit of Hannah Green this weekend.
Hazeltine is a brute, the longest setup in the 65-year history of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which was previously played as the LPGA Championship. Caddies called it a “bomber’s paradise” at week’s start, but apparently Green didn’t get the memo.
She isn’t a power player.
She ranks just 95th on tour in driving distance.
“I've never put myself in this position in any event, so to be doing it this week, at such a great venue, definitely shows things are going the right way,” said Green, a second-year LPGA member seeking her first victory.
Halfway through this championship, Green is defying expectations, taking charge with precision, finesse and a hot putter. But that formula will be tested with some of the game’s most formidable power players lining up in her rearview mirror.
Ariya Jutanugarn, Sung Hyun Park, Nelly Korda and Angel Yin muscled their way into contention.
They’re all among the game’s new breed of young bombers.
And they’re all sitting T-5 or better.
Lydia Ko is the only player besides Green at the top of the board who isn’t a big hitter.
Green’s 3-under-par 69 Friday moved her to 7 under overall. Jutanugarn (70) is three back, Park (71) and Ko (70) are four back, and Korda (70) and Yin (71) are five back.
Jutanugarn was a force a year ago, sweeping the LPGA’s most important awards. She won the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the Race to the CME Globe and the LPGA money title.
She won three times on the way to those honors, but she’s winless this year.
In fact, it’s been nearly 11 months since Jutanugarn last won. She is coming off a T-5 finish in her last start, at the ShopRite Classic, which was just her third top-10 finish in 13 starts this year.
She says the year has been all about being patient.
“It's really a challenge, but I just feel like, it’s life,” Jutanugarn said. “We are always going to go up and down. I just fight with it, and be patient, and do the best I can, because I never know when a good round will show up, and I never know when a bad round show up.”
Park is the defending champ. She won the HSBC Women’s World Championship back in February, tied for second at the Kia Classic two weeks later. She likes the big ballpark nature of Hazeltine, which plays to 6,807 yards on the scorecard.
“It’s definitely is a long course, but I believe that players who are strong in their long game, definitely have an advantage,” Park said.
Korda followed up her first LPGA title at the Taiwan Championship late last year with a victory at the Women’s Australian Open in February. She’s looking to add a major to her resume this week.
“I go into every week wanting to win,” Korda said.