Going into the final 36 holes of the women’s Olympic golf tournament, we’re set for a showdown of the sport’s accelerating generations.
Seven-time major winner Inbee Park leads on the Olympic Golf Course at 10-under 132 after shooting a second-consecutive 5-under 66 on the Gil Hanse-designed course.
The South Korean skipped the last two majors, including a title defense at the Women’s British Open, to nurse a nagging left thumb injury to health for this week. She’s acknowledged that she could be looking at retirement sooner than later, walking away to start a family. The injury may have accelerated that planning, maybe not. Either way, if this is the beginning of her swan song, it’s a beautiful start.
“I think first coming here, I didn’t really know whether I was going to play this week or not due to the injury,” Park said. “Obviously didn’t expect much of a result. It was more of, you know, whether I can play or not. So I mean, a good result is a great gift.”
Just a shot behind Park is a familiar foe, American Stacy Lewis, whose 8-under 63 on Thursday included 11 birdies. Coming to Rio after getting married last week, Lewis didn’t put in the kind of prep she normally would for a major-caliber tournament. She went to the first tee for Round 2 not feeling good about her game. Then she drained a ton of putts and tied the course record. Things changed.
“Any time you see some putts go in, it frees up the swing a little bit more,” she said. “But I don’t know, I didn’t expect this today as all.”
Lewis is in a position that might be a little too familiar. She hasn’t won in more than two years on the LPGA, and she’s logged 11 second-place finishes in that stretch. A career-low round, she hopes, will propel her toward a gold medal.
Then, tied for third, is the already-arrived future.
Canadian 18-year-old Brooke Henderson, who won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in May for her first major championship, finished with a flurry on Thursday that included five birdies in six holes. Her 64 has her at 8 under par.
“I kind of got momentum and putts drained for me and I was able to hit some really good shots,” he said. “I’m really happy with today and hopefully I’ll do something similar tomorrow.”
Charley Hull, just 20, represents Great Britain. Tied with Henderson at 8 under, she’s entertaining visions of an Olympic golf British double as a follow-on from Justin Rose’s victory on Sunday.
“I’m kind of representing my country every week I feel like when I’m playing, but this week, you know you’re a part of the team, so it’s good fun,” she said after the round.
With two rounds to go, talk of fun might change to talk of history.
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