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Pettersen closes strong, grabs Lotte Championship lead

The SportsXchange

KAPOLEI, HAWAII -- Strong winds affected Thursday's second round of the LPGA Lotte Championship at Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, West Oahu, but Suzann Pettersen's consistent play trumped any ill effects posed by the weather.

The 10-year tour veteran turned in a 3-under 69 to take sole possession of first place at 10-under. Pettersen sank four birdies a day after notching nine birdies in her first-round effort.

Pettersen, the No. 6 player on tour, posted birdies on three of the final eight holes as she positioned herself for a run at her 11th career tour win.

"We had sunshine, rainbows, rain -- it was a great day," Pettersen said. "I got up-and-down quite a few times, and am feeling good with my putter. Once you pick up your club, it's go time. Just hanging in there today and trying not to get too comfortable. I'm feeling good, feeling sharp. I'm pretty happy with 69 today."

Ai Miyazato responded with a familiar charge to the top of the leaderboard as the event's defending champion stands alone at second place at 9-under after firing a 4-under 68 earlier in the day.

The No. 9 player in the Rolex Rankings finished her round on the front nine, and used a blistering streak of five birdies through the final seven holes, including a 20-foot birdie putt from the edge of the green on the par-3 8th, to skyrocket into the lead.

She credited her familiarity with the Bermuda grass greens for helping her to read them, and make key putts down the stretch.

The Japanese native entered this week with three top-25 finishes so far in 2013, including a runner-up position at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founder's Cup a month ago in Phoenix. Miyazato claimed last year's inaugural event, holding off Spain's Azahara Munoz and South Korea's Meena Lee by four strokes.

"It was definitely windier than (Wednesday), so it was pretty tough," Miyazato said when asked about the windy conditions. "On the back nine I made great putts out there, and it was a great finish. I'm not sure if (the wind) suits (my game), but I grew up in the wind. Hawaii is always a windy place, and it's fun to play in these weather conditions."

Hyo Joo Kim, a South Korean 17-year-old, finished at 1-under on the day to move her to 7-under, and into a third-place tie for the tournament. The KLPGA member birdied two of the final five holes to push her second-round score under par. Fellow South Korean Hee Kyung Seo, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, emerged unscathed with an even-par 72 to remain at 7-under along with Beatriz Recardi.

No. 2 ranked Stacy Lewis carded a 1-under 71 to pull into sixth place at 6-under. The two-time winner in 2013 can regain the No. 1 ranking with a victory this week.

"We we're warming up at 6:30, 7 o'clock in the morning, and the wind's howling, so going into the day sitting on the range, you knew it would be hard," Lewis said. "You had to fight for every shot. You couldn't really try to make too many birdies, you had to take some putts if they came and grind out a few pars. Anything under par today is a good score."

The winds, which were very calm on Wednesday and led to a slew of low first-round scores, were blowing steadily from 10 to 20 mph from the moment the first group teed off at 7 a.m.

Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn took a few steps back a day after shooting a tournament record-tying 8-under 64, which resulted in her owning the lead after the first round. The 17-year-old shot 75 on the heels of two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey on the par-3 16th -- quite a departure from her seven birdies and an eagle notched Wednesday.

Despite the setback, the Ladies European Tour rookie remains in contention with a seventh-place mark of 5-under.

Tour veteran Se Ri Pak, fellow South Korean So Yeon Ryu and Americans Jane Rah and Austin Ernst are also tied with Jutanugarn, and remain four shots off the lead.

Notes: Top ranked Inbee Park sits in a tie for 19th place after shooting 71 to improve to 3-under. The South Korean took over the No. 1 ranking Monday following her victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship two weeks ago. ... Michelle Wie, one of two homegrown players in the field, just barely made the cut after shooting a 4-over 76. The Punahou School product hit only five of 14 fairways and seven of 18 greens in regulation, but advanced with a score of 2-over. ... The field is competing for a share of the event's $1.7 million prize purse, which includes a $225,000 winner's check.
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