A beautiful Thursday morning in Clifton, New Jersey, set the perfect tone to kick off the Founders Cup weekend.
Breaking down the rules golf is a simple scoring sport. On each hole, there is a par. Par essentially means that's how many attempts you have to get the ball in the hole. If you do it on par, the score would be even. However, people often go over, and sometimes under, which is where things like bogeys and bridies come into play.
A bogey is when the golfer is one stroke over par so the score would be +1. On some more difficult courses bogeys or even double bogeys can be a bit more common to see. Now on the opposite end, golfers want to be under par. A birdie is -1 and an eagle is -2 and those are seen a lot in the leaders in each tournament.
DAY ONE JITTERS
The sunny skies set for a perfect day of play on the green. 12-time LPGA Tour winner Sei Young Kim got off to a fast start for the tournament. Kim shot a bogey-free 6-under 66 on Thursday, including a streak of four consecutive birdies at 12, 13, 14, and 15.
LPGA Tour rookie Hae Ran Ryu held comfortably in second at -5. At only 22 years old, she is hoping to break through for her major win on the tour. This season, Ryu has two top-10 finishes and one additional top-20 finish and is leading the standings for Rookie of the Year.
Nine players tied for third at -4, including defending champion Minjee Lee and two-time Founders champion Jin Young Ko. Others in the pack at -4 were Stacy Lewis, Atthaya Thitikul, Peiyun Chien, and Hye-Jin Choi.
“Hit a lot of good shots today that ended up on the fringe so the stats maybe don't show the ball striking. I think (stats) showed I only hit 12 greens, but probably putted four or five times from the fringe,” said Lewis. “So the misses were really good, and just took what the course gave me and took advantage of the par-5s.”
ROUND 2 SAILS ON
By the end of day two a new face was in the lead. Sarah Kemp, the 37-year-old Australian native was -8 to tie a lead with two-time champion Jin Young Ko. Throughout her years on the tour, Kemp has never been able to secure a win, could this be the weekend?
“I'm sure I'll go to bed and think about it naturally, and I think I'll be pretty excited for tomorrow. Maybe try and calm my excitement down. Being co-leader going into Saturday at an LPGA event is pretty cool, right?” said Kemp after finishing her rounds in a tie for first.
Aditi Ashok, Minjee Lee, and rookie Hae Ran Ryu sat tied for third behind Kemp and Ko. In this season Ashok has missed the cut three of the five times so being one of the pack leaders going into weekend play sets her up nicely.
Day 2 of play was trickier for the players as the winds grew to be a little gusty, throwing off some drives and putts. Hole 3 with a par-4, had a second-round scoring average of 4.417 with 10 birdies and 50 bogeys or worse made there on Friday, May 12.
Stacy Lewis also made a good show for herself, having a long putt that settled her in a comfortable spot for the cut.
Eventually, the pool of players needs to dwindle for competition to advance. Sixty- six players made the cut at +1 on Fridaay including all five past champions in the field.
However, some notable players missed the cut after rocky starts to their weekend. Rolex Rankings World No. 1 Nelly Korda and two-time 2023 season champion Lilia Vu were two shockers to not make the cut going into weekend play. Korda was just five off from making the cut at +2 by the end of her two rounds of play while Vu fell a bit farther down at +4.
Paige Crawford and Katie Lu, both play-ins failed to make the cut as well with Crawford at +12 and Lu at +11.
Several players also pulled out citing injury including Jessica Korda, Paula Creamer, and Lindsey Weaver-Wright.
SHAKING UP THE STANDINGS
After a windy day three of play the leaderboard had some major shifts. Minjee Lee, defending champion, who ended day two in third found her way to the top of the leaderboard. Sarah Kemp, day two leader dropped to a tie for 13th with a -5 on the day.
Lee bettered her third-round score from last year where she won by two strokes. She carded an eagle, four birdies, and one bogey in her 5-under 67. Lee’s putting game was what sent her to the top of the board singing a 20-foot putt and later a 50-footer with 28 putts throughout the day.
This is the seventh time in Lee’s LPGA Tour career that she holds a portion of the lead heading into the final round. She has won five of those times, most recently at the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open, and finished second the one time she did not win. This tournament last year also set the tone for Lee’s incredible season as it was her first win. If she were to win she would become only the second person to win it back-to-back, Jin Young Ko being the only other to have done so.
When asked if she was thinking about winning, Lee said, “Not really. I'm just chillin'. I'm not really thinking too much or doing anything obviously. I'm just going to play my own game and stick to what I can control and stick to my game plan.”
Going into the final day of play the standing are close, with second place being a four-stroke difference to first. With it set to be windy again, anything can happen, and it’ll all come down to the final stroke.