The storylines entering this week’s 77th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica were seemingly endless. Through two days, the championship has not disappointed.
Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club has yielded lower scores than anticipated, some of the record-setting variety. One surprise performer remains on top of the leader board, with one of the game’s most acclaimed ball-strikers joining her through 36 holes. Meanwhile, the top-ranked player in the world is lurking, a mere three shots off the pace as we head to the weekend.
Here are the top 10 Stats to Know from Round 2 of the U.S. Women’s Open:
1. Mina Harigae picked a great week to have her best performance of the season. Before yesterday, the 32-year-old American had never recorded a single U.S. Women’s Open score in the 60s. Now, she’s done it in back-to-back days, the first time all season she has opened an event with consecutive sub-70 rounds. Harigae is one of three players in the field this week to have not missed a fairway through two rounds (28-for-28). Her biggest advantage, though, has been on the greens, where she leads the field in strokes gained (+7.51) entering the weekend.
Harigae is the first American to hold the lead or co-lead through 36 holes at this championship since Michelle Wie West in 2014. The question now will be if Harigae can keep this momentum churning: since the beginning of last year, Harigae is a combined 10 under par in Rounds 1 and 2 of major championships. She’s 15 over on the weekends in that same span. Do her fortunes change here in North Carolina?
2. Next to Harigae at 9 under par is Minjee Lee, arguably the best approach player on the LPGA Tour this season. Lee has gained ground on the field in an unconventional way for her, though – on the greens. Entering this week, Minjee ranked 144th on the LPGA Tour this season in strokes-gained putting among players with 10 or more rounds. Through 36 holes at Pine Needles, she’s ranked second in that statistic, trailing only Harigae.
Though this is the first time Lee has held the 36-hole lead or co-lead in a major, the top of the board is familiar ground for the world’s No. 4-ranked player. Lee has been inside the top 20 through 36 holes in every stroke-play event she has teed it up in so far this year. Lee is the third Australian player since 2000 to hold the lead or co-lead at the 36-hole mark of this championship, joining Sarah Jane Smith in 2018 and Karrie Webb here at Pine Needles in 2001.
3. Another day, another 64 at Pine Needles: this time, it was Hyejin Choi pulling off the feat, coming within one stroke of Helen Alfredsson’s record round of 63 in 1994. This is just the second time in U.S. Women’s Open history there have been multiple rounds of 64 recorded in a single championship – it happened three times in 1999 at Old Waverly Golf Club, all within the first two days of competition. Choi did just about everything flawlessly on Friday – she hit every fairway (14-for-14), missed only two greens, and ranked third in the field in strokes-gained putting. Not bad.
4. Playing alongside legend Annika Sorenstam, amateur Ingrid Lindblad had an opening 36 holes to remember this week in North Carolina. The history books will remember it, too: Lindblad’s 36-hole total score of 136 is the lowest ever by an amateur in the storied history of this championship. The score was one better than the total of 137 that Grace Park assembled in 1999 at Old Waverly.
While Lindblad’s week has been remarkable, an amateur contending into the weekend is nothing new at this championship. This marks the sixth straight U.S. Women’s Open where at least one amateur has been inside the top five through 36 holes. In 2020, there were actually two of them at Champions in Houston – Linn Grant and Kaitlyn Papp. Lindblad is trying to join Catherine Lacoste in 1967 as amateurs to win the U.S. Women’s Open.
5. Paired with the amateur on Saturday will be world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, who is enjoying her best ever 36-hole position at this championship (a tie for fifth). Ko fired a surgical 67 on Friday to vault herself into contention, and through two days is inside the top five in the field in strokes-gained approach. Ko entered this week with the best strokes gained per round average of any player the last 30 years who had not yet won this championship.
Ko’s name on the leader board will invariably get the attention of her peers. Especially considering this statistic: since 2017, Ko is a combined 10 under par in Rounds 3 and 4 of the U.S. Women’s Open. That’s the best score of any player in that span.
6. At 7 under, Anna Nordqvist has recorded her best 36-hole score to par in a major championship in 13 years. The last time she went lower than this through two days of a major was at the 2009 Women’s PGA, a championship she went on to win. The three-time major champion has been stellar on and around the greens through two rounds: she is 8-for-10 scrambling so far this week, second-best of anyone in the field. She has also made four putts of 20 feet or longer, tied for most of any player. Nordqvist’s best career U.S. Women’s Open finish was a playoff loss to Brittany Lang six years ago.
7. The world’s best are making Pine Needles look easier than it is. In the first three U.S. Women’s Opens at this venue, the fields combined for 43 scores in the 60s through the first two rounds. This week? We’re already at 42. The field scoring average of 73.30 is the second-lowest through two rounds at this championship going back three decades. Only the 2015 edition, held at Lancaster Country Club, was incrementally easier through 36 holes (73.26).
8. Just four off the pace, Sei Young Kim has once again put herself in contention at a major championship. Kim has been a stalwart at the game’s biggest championships in recent years: since 2017, she is a combined 95 strokes under par in the majors. That’s 31 shots better than any other player in that span (Inbee Park, -64). Kim, a major champion, has just one top-10 finish at the U.S. Women’s Open – a tie for eighth place in 2017. Kim will try to become the 10th Korean winner in the last 15 years of this championship.
9. Four years after her sister Ariya won this championship, Moriya Jutanugarn sits just four shots behind the leaders entering the weekend. In USGA history, only two sets of sisters have ever won USGA championships: Hollis Stacy & Martha Leach, and Harriot & Margaret Curtis. The Curtis sisters are the last set to win the same USGA championship, combining to win four U.S. Women’s Amateur titles from 1906 to 1912. That means it’s been 110 years since two sisters won the same USGA title, something Moriya could potentially seal this weekend.
10. So who can still realistically win it this weekend? 75 percent of U.S. Women’s Open champions since 1990 have been inside the top 10 through 36 holes. 27 of the last 30 winners have been at or within six shots of the lead entering Round 3. That trend would loop in luminaries like Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson (both six back).
That’s not to say players outside that window can’t do it: Betsy King was nine back of Patty Sheehan through two rounds in 1990 before storming back to win.
With low scores to be had, this could be a wild weekend at Pine Needles.
Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.