PITTSFORD – Morgan Pressel’s positioned herself nicely to end a winless drought that’s spanned 106 starts on the LPGA Tour.
To do it, she’ll have to hold off a tightly bunched group of players that includes the world No. 1 for 36 grueling holes on an unforgiving golf course that penalizes even the most minor of misplayed shots.
“The question will be just how committed I can be to every shot, because when you get tired your mind starts to wonder,” Pressel said. “So that’ll be the biggest test, truly staying focused on every shot. At the end of the day I probably won’t want to think another second, but that will mean that I gave it my all.”
She’ll have to, as 20 players are within six shots of the lead, which Pressel holds at 6-under-par 138 after the first two rounds at Locust Hill Country Club. She fought through another day of weather best suited for ducks Saturday to shoot 2-under 70, giving her a two-shot lead.
Joining Pressel in the final threesome today will be Inbee Park, the 24-year-old who holds the top spot in the world, and 22-year-old Chella Choi, the first-round leader. Both South Koreans are at 4-under through 36 holes.
“We still have a lot more golf to play,” Park said. “It feels like we have one more round to go, but we have to play two rounds in one day. I think that’s going to be very tough mentally and physically.”
Park, 25, has three victories on tour this season, including the season’s first major in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She’s become accustomed to playing in the final group.
“I’ve experienced a lot of golf,” she said. “That really helps going into major championships like this. … You feel a lot more comfortable.”
Pressel also knows what it’s like to win a major, but she’s got to go a lot further back in the memory bank to access it. When she won the 2007 Kraft Nabisco, she was the next big thing in women’s golf. At 18 years old at the time, she remains the youngest player to have ever won a major on the LPGA Tour.
But while she’s one of the most recognizable names on Tour, the type of success imagined then has not materialized. She had missed three of her last four cuts before arriving in Rochester. Since her major triumph, Pressel has just one victory, in 2008.
“It was a long time ago. I’ve been through a lot since then. A lot has happened in golf and in life, but that being said, I’ve done it before. I just need to go out there and remember that I can do it and just get it done,” said the 25-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla.
Park and Pressel have a history that dates back to their days playing junior golf together in Florida.
“I know she’s been through some tough times in her career the last couple years,” Park said, “but I’m sure she’s the type of player that could always come back. I think she’s feeling really comfortable around this golf course.”
Pressel has held a 36-hole lead three different times in her LPGA career, but never won any of those tournaments. The last time was here in 2008.
“I love this golf course,” she said. “I’m just comfortable here, and this golf course certainly plays to my game. As long as I can keep getting the putts to go in, I think I’ll have a good finish.”
It was a good start that set Pressel up for the 36-hole lead. Teeing off in the afternoon wave — and dealing with occasional heavy rains — she made a birdie on the par-4 11th, her second hole of the day, by hitting a lob wedge to 6 feet. She followed that with back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to reach 7 under. After dropping a pair of shots on No. 16 and No. 18, she had a quiet final nine holes, making a birdie on the par-5 eighth hole to reach 6 under. Her two bogeys on the day came because of wayward drives to the right rough, which remained fierce Saturday.
Overnight rain on the already-waterlogged course left it downright sloppy in areas.
A perfect illustration: Pressel’s tee shot on the par-4 seventh hole plugged. On the green (she two-putted for par).
“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the rough and you just gotta not hit it in it, basically. It’s easier said than done, but just stay away from it,” said Australian Sarah Jane Smith, who did that by hitting 11 of 14 fairways on her way to a round of 3-under 69.
Smith is 3 under for the tournament, in a tie for fourth place with South Koreans Amy Yang and Jiyai Shin. The last time an LPGA major played 36 holes on the final day, at the 2012 Women’s British Open, Shin won in a nine-shot romp.
Asian-born players have won the last eight majors on the LPGA Tour, and if Pressel falters Sunday, they’re in position to continue that streak. Six of the top 11 players on the leader board are natives of South Korea. That includes Sun Young Yoo and Na Yeon Choi, who are part of a tie for seventh at 2 under.
Yoo ripped off the hottest stretch in two rounds when she went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie from holes nine to 12, but bogeyed 15 and 18 coming in.
Choi shot 1-over 73 in the second round, needing 32 putts compared to just 28 in the first round.
Pressel, meanwhile, leads the field with just 50 putts through the first two rounds.
“I feel good about the way that I’m playing,” she said. “I feel good about my approach to playing, which is just as important sometimes.”
Players will go off in threesomes for the third round between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. from the first and 10th tees today. The final round will begin between noon and 2 p.m. again from both tees with the groupings remaining the same.