Now that almost half the field is gone, it shouldn’t be too difficult to predict the winner of the Hugel-Air Premia L.A. Open at Wilshire Country Club.
It will either be a young player trying to break through, a Hall of Famer, a multiple winner, a veteran hoping to jump-start a stalled career, or just about anyone under par after Friday’s cutdown day in the LPGA Tour event. Easy choice.
No one has broken away from the pack on this classic 100-year-old layout with the Hollywood sign as its backdrop, which means all 30 players in red numbers at least have a shot at stardom Sunday.
Minjee Lee, a four-time winner on tour with three top-10s this year, used an eagle from the fairway on the par-four 14th hole to help her to a two-under-par 69 and a one-shot lead at seven-under 135 heading into the weekend.
Second-year player Nanna Koerstz Madsen shot 67 and is alone in second place at six under, followed by Morgan Pressel (66) and Gaby Lopez (68) another shot back.
Six players are tied for fifth at four under: Danielle Kang (66), rookie Jaclyn Lee (67), former world No. 1s Inbee Park (70) and Shanshan Feng (70), and first-round co-leaders Stacy Lewis and Hannah Green, who both shot 73.
Koerstz Madsen’s game is evolving as she learns how to control a temper that she acknowledges can get the better of her. She missed the cut at Wilshire in 2018, as she did in 13 of 22 events a year ago. Her best finish this year is 26th.
“Last year I was kind of afraid to hit every shot I was playing,” she said. “Now I’m just trying to relax a little bit more and just say if I shoot plus-seven that’s OK, and if I shoot minus-seven, that’s good too.
“It’s not very fun to play if you’re afraid to hit the ball.”
Pressel’s win at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship as an 18-year-old created expectations that have never quite been realized. She hasn’t won since 2008.
As was the case in the opening round, most of the low scores in Round 2 came from the morning group, who had smoother greens, much less wind and lots more smiles after 18 holes.
Seven players from the morning round shot 68 or better. No one in the afternoon group could do better than Minjee Lee’s 69.
Come Sunday, the tournament could easily come down to the two finishing holes. They both figured prominently Friday.
No. 17 is the longest par four on the course, playing 440 yards Friday, a slight dogleg right to a green protected on three sides by the barranca and stream that run throughout the course.
Green, after starting on No. 10, held a two-stroke lead when she came to No. 17 Friday, hit her second shot into the water to the right of the green and ended up with double bogey.
Koerstz Madsen and Minjee Lee both bogeyed No. 17, though Pressel made birdie … by chipping in.
No. 18 is a 156-yard par-three with a narrow, crescent-shaped green protected in front by five bunkers, on the left side by another bunker and the rest of the way around by a steep bank that makes misses an open invitation to bogey … or worse. From front to back, perched at an angle from the tee box, the green is about the length of a Tom Brady Hail Mary, 50 yards, and is only six paces deep in the middle.
Jaclyn Lee, who birdied the hole Friday, had never seen it before this week.
“Yeah, that’s kind of a cool finish,” she said. “That green is a bit of a beast. … When I first walked in and I saw that, I asked my caddie, ‘Is that a practice green or is that like an actual green I have to hit on to?’ ”
Brittany Lang, who shot 71 to make the cut at two over, was one of many golfers who missed the green to the left, the worst spot for a miss, and had to scramble to make bogey.
“I don’t want to have to go through that again,” she said, relieved to have the hole in the rearview mirror.