Minjee Lee matched the tournament best with an 8-under 64 for a share of the lead Friday in the LPGA Tour’s weather-delayed Mizuho Americas Open.
Cheyenne Knight had a 68 in the inaugural event to join Lee at 7-under 137 atop the tightly bunched leaderboard that features five top-10 players and promising newcomer Rose Zhang.
Play was suspended late in the afternoon for 1 hours, 47 minutes because of dangerous weather conditions near Liberty National and the last groups barely finished before darkness on the course adjacent to the Hudson River with a spectacular view of the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
The fifth-ranked Lee, from Australia, birdied eight of the first 12 holes in a bogey-free round that moved her from 55th to the top spot. Her score was nine shots better than her opening round.
“I think Liberty National is kind of a course where if you play it more, the better idea you have,” said Lee, an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour. “So, since it’s the inaugural event it’s the same for everybody.”
No. 3 Lydia Ko was a shot back after a 69.
Top-ranked Jin Young Ko (66) was 5 under with No. 6 Atthaya Thitikul (71), No. 8 Brooke Henderson (70), Aditi Ashok (72) and Zhang (69), the two-time NCAA individual champion who turned pro last week and received a sponsor’s exemption to play.
Jin Young Ko, Zhang and Ashok had less than three holes left when play was suspended at 6 p.m. Ko had a birdie and bogey after play resumed. Zhang finished with three pars in her 69, a shot better than her professional debut. Ashok had a bogey in her final three holes.
Knight, who has had three top 10 finishes this year, played her final 11 holes in 4 under.
“I think my ball-striking has really come a long way,” said Knight, who had six birdies and two bogeys. “I’ve been hitting a lot of fairways and greens, and hence I have more birdie opportunities.”
Lydia Ko, who played with Lee, has been searching for her game since a top-10 finish in Thailand in February.
“To be honest, haven’t been playing that great leading up to this week,” the 26-year-old said. “I played much better and solid on the LET event a couple weeks ago, so that was a good momentum shift. But, yeah, you know, I would say it has been a very colourful scorecard, not in a good way, not the birdie colours.”
Jin Young Ko said her putting was better Friday.
“Everything was good,” she said. “Yesterday was good, too, but putt was straighter for me. So I practised a little bit last night, and, yeah, I had like A game, so I’m happy with it.”
Zhang was excited to make the cut, adding she thought she might struggle with that despite winning 12 of 20 events in the past two years at Stanford.
“I think tomorrow and the day after will be also no expectations on me; more so learning what it means to be playing in a lead group as a professional and going from there,” the 20-year-old said.
Ashok, who has had two top-five finishes in her last three events, is looking for her first win.
Henderson, who won in Florida in January, overcame a double bogey to start to shoot a 70.
“It’s kind of been a weird year,” Henderson said. “I started out on such a high winning the first event back, and then kind of been a little up and down since then. I’m hoping to start the upward trend and have some really solid finishes here the next few weeks.”
Thitikul, who has five top-10 finishes this year, reached 7 under through 12 holes but had a double bogey at the par 5 No. 13.
Eun-Hee Ji (69) of South Korea, Bronte Law (70) and American Angel Yin (70) were 4 under.
First-round leader Lauren Hartlage was in a group at 3 under after a 76 – 11 shots more than Thursday.
Lee’s 64 was matched Friday by New Jersey native Marina Alex, who needed to go low after an 80 on Thursday.
“I played as horribly as I could play it yesterday, so I think I learned every place not to be,” said Alex, whose par total should make the cut. “It’s a tricky course, and honestly, I just think that I – it required on my end probably a little bit more prep going into yesterday.”