Choi Claims the Half Way Lead at St Andrews

Na Yeon Choi 650x250

South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi carded a fine five under par 67 in windy conditions to move into a one shot lead at the halfway stage of the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open over the Old Course at St Andrews.

The 25 year-old from Seoul goes into the third round on ten under par 134 and with a one shot lead over Japan’s Miki Saiki who took advantage of the calmer morning condition by posting a 66 for a 36-hole aggregate of 135.

Joint first round  leader, American Morgan Pressel, added a two under par 70 to her opening 66 to finish the first two rounds on 8-under par 146, while South Korea’s Jee Young Lee and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen both carded five under par 67s to share 4th place with Nicole Castrale one shot further back on 137.

Choi – who is known on Tour as NYC or the Big Apple – missed the cut at last year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Hoylake but showed she is more than capable of handling treacherous links conditions with a battling round in which she carded six birdies and dropped just one shot on the 353-yard par-4 7th.

The 2012 US Women’s Open champion began her round with birdies on the 370-yard par-4 3rd and the 561-yard par-5 5th where she holed from 40-feet across the green. She went on to post further birdies on 369-yard par-4 6th and the 254-yard par-3 8th to go out in three under par 33 and then against the wind coming home recorded 7 pars and a brace of birdies on the 314-yard 12th and the 414-yard par-4 15th where she sank a 35-foot putt from the fringe.

“I’m very satisfied with the last two rounds,” said Choi. “Yesterday was good and today was even better because the course was playing at least 3 or 4 shots harder.

“I’d say the par out there was 74 or 75,” she added. “I don’t think I could have shot lower than 67. I missed a couple of birdie putts today but I also made some long ones. My focus was very good and my caddie helped a lot.”

Choi’s caddie this week is Irishman, David Jones, and the Irish connection is strengthened further by the fact that she has been coached since childhood by another Irishman, Robin Symes, who she met seven years ago in Korea.

“We met when I was still in high school,” Choi confirmed. “He was a teaching pro in Korea, still is. Right now, he works just outside Seoul. He has a big academy there and a lot of students. David is his friend, they grew up together in Ireland, and they helped me a lot. I trust them a hundred percent.”

Saiki came into this championship with two wins behind her on this year’s Japanese LPGA Tour and having closed with a five under par 67 to finish tied 7th the last time the Ricoh Women’s British Open was staged on the Old Course back in 2007.

The 29 year-old from Hiroshima was three under par after an opening 69 and she quickly got to four under after three holes before two spectacular eagles on the 406-yard par-4 4th and the 353-yard par-4 7th plus a birdie on the 347-yard par-4 9th helped her reach the turn in six under 30.

The first of Saiki’s eagles came when she hit an 8-iron 127-yards into the hole on the 4th and three holes later she repeated the feat with a 108-yard pitching wedge before coming home in level par 36 to set the early pace on nine under par 145.

“It’s incredible,” she said the Japanese player whose grandfather and father were both scratch handicap golfers. “It’s the first time I have ever had two eagles on par-4s in one round.

I would rate it as the best round I’ve ever played because it’s a Major and because of the fact I shot it here at St Andrews,” she added. “When you take all that into consideration it’s got to be the best.”

Pressel began the second round with a share of the overnight lead alongside Sweden’s Camilla Lennarth on 66 and consolidated her place in the top-5 with a solid two under par 70 which consisted of 16 pars and birdies on the 370-yard par-4 3rd and the 340-yard par-4 10th.

“I played very well today,” said the 25 year-old American, who qualified for her first US Women’s Open at the age of just 12 and won her first Major title at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship while still an 18 year-old teenager.

“! gave myself a lot of chances and they were scaring the hole but didn’t go in.”

Further down the leaderboard Inbee Park’s quest for the fourth leg of the Grand Slam will continue after she added carded a one over par 73 to finish the second round on two under par 142.

The World No. 1 dropped a shot at the 376-yard par-4 first but got it back at the 369-yard par-4 6th to get to the turn in 36. She went on to come home in one over par 37 but is adamant that she can still challenge at the weekend.

“I grinded really well out there today,” Park said. “I was a little bit unlucky with the draw, getting the afternoon today, not playing in the morning when it was lovely, but that’s the way it is.

“I’m a bit behind but not out of it,” she added. “You never know what’s going to happen the next two days, especially if the conditions get tougher. I think anything could happen out there”

The leading amateur going into the last two rounds is 17 year-old English international, Georgia Hall, the 2012 British Girls’ champion, who carded rounds of 68 and 75 to go into the weekend on one under par 143, one shot ahead of France’s Celine Boutier and two shots in front of World No. 1 amateur, Lydia Ko, from New Zealand. Ko is bidding to win her second Smyth Salver, having also claimed the amateur prize at Royal Liverpool 12 months ago.

The cut fell at one over par 145 and among those who missed out were 2010 and 2011 champion Yani Tseng (146), 1986 champion Laura Davies, Japan’s Ai Miyazato and Charley Hull (all 148), three-time champion Karrie Webb and 2004 winner Karen Stupples (150) and amateurs Amy Boulden (150), Gabriella Cowley (156) and  Sarah-Jane Boyd (159).

The biggest casualty of the day was joint first round leader, Camilla Lennarth from Sweden, who opened with a six under par 66 but plummeted to a ten over par 82 in the second round to miss out on 148.

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