(Corrects Oh’s second round score to 68)
By Andrew Both
SHOAL CREEK, Ala., June 1 (Reuters) - Australian Sarah Jane Smith shrugged off her underdog status to open some daylight on the field in the second round at the U.S. Women’s Open on Friday.
After sharing the overnight lead, Smith quickly took advantage of benign early conditions to pick up five birdies on her outward half at Shoal Creek.
It was a “strange” feeling for someone so unaccustomed to leading, and she could not maintain the torrid pace coming home, playing her final nine holes in even par. The five-under-par 67 matched her opening round.
Smith’s 10-under 134 halfway total was good for a four-stroke advantage over compatriot Su Oh (68) in the morning half of the draw.
“I was definitely nervous but not like I’ve been in the past. I was actually kind of happy with how I handled it a bit more today,” said Smith, who is still seeking her first LPGA victory.
“I find the nerves of playing bad are a lot harder to deal with than the nerves of playing good. So I feel like it’s a different nerves but they were there.”
Of the other two overnight leaders, Lee Jeong-eun backtracked with a 75 to fall eight strokes back. Ariya Jutanugarn had a late tee time.
Smith, 33, hopes to make it consecutive major winners by Australians at Shoal Creek, following Wayne Grady’s victory at the 1990 PGA Championship. She has a way to go, but nonetheless took delight at seeing her name atop the leaderboard the entire round.
“It’s kind of fun seeing that,” she said.
“It was weird (building a big lead). It just felt really easy. It was strange, the front nine. I was sort of holing a lot of putts. I didn’t hit a great shot into 13, and then holed maybe a 40-footer for birdie there.
“I hit a couple squirrelly shots (late in the round), but made some nice up-and-downs. Obviously it sucked to have the three-putt on eight (her 17th), but can’t complain too much.”
Smith, coached by one of Tiger Woods’ previous instructors, Sean Foley, arrived at Shoal Creek after five missed cuts in six starts.
“Sean is in constant contact,” Smith said. “So we had a really good lesson before Kingsmill (two weeks ago) and then I actually missed the cut but felt like I played really well.
“(He told me to) keep showing up, it’s going to turn around. He just kind of set me straight.” (Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Larry King)