RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The ANA Inspiration is supposed to be a long hitter’s paradise, with the LPGA’s biggest hitters taking advantage of the par-5s on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club.
Which doesn’t explain how Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn, one of the tour’s shortest hitters, found her way to the top of the leaderboard midway through Friday’s second round.
Jutanugarn, ranked 131st on the LPGA average driving distance stats at a fraction under 204 yards, fired an 3-under 69 Friday to move to 7-under for the tournament. She took sole possession of the lead at the first major championship of the year as the morning wave of tee times finished their round. Jutanugarn had four birdies in the round, but just one on a par-5, that being the second hole on the Shore Course.
“It’s just about patient out there,” Jutanugarn said. “I mean, I’m not a long hitter so I just have to take what I can and just trying to play smart and put myself into, you know, like places I can have a good chance.”
Jutanugarn reached 8-under for the tournament before a bogey on the par-4 15th, but kept the round going with a clutch eight-foot par putt on the 16th hole.
She ended her round moments before overnight leader Patty Tavatanakit began her second round. Jutanugarn was 6-under entering the round, but two other players, Shanshan Feng and Anna Nordqvist, were also at 6 under.
Nordqvist’s round of 70 came when winds were gusty in the morning. The breeze calmed down during the mid-morning. Feng birdied her first two holes in the afternoon to reach 7-under but then lost a shot on the third hole.
“I feel like we are always going to play in the wind here,” Jutanugarn said. “You know, like every time, every year we come it’s always going to be kind of windy.”
Major champions moving up the board
Other major champions near the lead midway through the day included 2020 ANA Inspiration champion Mirim Lee, 2019 ANA champion Jin Young Ko and 2020 AIG Women’s Open Sophia Popov, making her first start in the Coachella Valley, all at 5-under.
“Obviously, so far so good,” said Popov, whose absence from the tournament last year after she had won the AIG Women’s Open spurred the LPGA to change its rules about major winners automatically getting into tournaments. “You know, with good play you’re actually having fun, so, so far it’s been awesome. It’s kind of what I hoped for. I watched this tournament so many times. Been here, watched my former teammates (from USC) play.”
Popov wasn’t in the field because the tournament and LPGA had frozen the ANA Inspiration field at its April status, even though thee tournament was postponed to September, after the AIG Women’s open, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jutaqnugarn, the older sister of Ariya, is looking for her second LPGA win and her first major championship. Her sister has 10 wins, including two majors.