Smith joins Lewis in lead at ANZ

25 year old American golfer, Stacy Lewis, took the early second round lead at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast and although many high class players in the afternoon field had the chance to chase her down, only one was able to do so.

At 4.35pm and nearly five hours after Lewis had signed her scorecard, West Australian Kristie Smith birdied her final hole of day two to join Lewis in the lead at 12 under, the pair establishing a one shot lead over world number two Yani Tseng with a further six players just one shot further back at 10 under.

For some time it appeared the early 36 hole lead established by Lewis might be hard to catch by those playing in the afternoon but, with the conditions remaining calm and conducive to good scoring for much of the day, several players made late bids.

A highly successful collegiate golfer during her time at the University of Arkansas, Lewis has played for much of her golfing life with the back complaint scoliosis which caused curvature of the spine. She wore a brace for 15 hours a day for more than seven years, taking it off only to play golf. She eventually had surgery at the age of 18 when she had a rod and five screws in her back.

"One of the reasons why I started playing was to get out of wearing the brace and the doctor said it actually probably helped as it kept the muscles loose and playing golf was probably good for it.

"It's definitely much better now than it was before but it is still always going to be there so I have to be more careful than anyone else and deal with it. I take Monday's off and try to take it easy when I can."

For much of her latter amateur career Lewis was the leading ranked amateur in the US, that career culminating in an outstanding performance at the 2008 Curtis Cup where she played a key role in an emphatic US victory.

Lewis' career has a professional has yet to reach those same heights. "It has been good but I would love to have won more. I have learned so much along the way however that I am a much better player now than I was when I turned professional and am overall pretty happy with it."

The highlight of Lewis' round was probably the eagle from 15 feet at her 12th hole which followed a three wood approach. "The key (to her position) was the round in the afternoon yesterday. I played really well in the inside then and I think my five under yesterday was a little better than today's."

Smith established her comfort zone on the Royal Pines layout two years ago when she recorded a round of 62 on day two. The powerful 22 year old is touted as perhaps the next best thing in Australian Women's golf and has won twice in lesser events in the past 13 months. Smith has consolidated her position on the Ladies European Tour, finishing 25th on the Money List in 2010. She will however target the US later this year when she attends the LPGA Tour School.

"I got off to a solid start yesterday and saw the leader-board firing up this morning and knew I had to shoot a good one to be up there today," said Smith.

An eagle at the third hole got things moving early. "I had a twenty footer left to right downhill after a two rescue in. I hit a great shot straight at the pin after a good drive down there."

Smith arrived at Royal Pines indifferent about her game after missing the cut at the Australian Open but time spent with coach Ian Triggs. They have worked on visualisation and technique and trying to shape the ball a little more left to right than had been the case. "I had been having a little anxiety the last couple of tournaments and was not expecting to be at the top of the leaderboard and to be honest that is probably why I am there.

"I have been in contention coming into the weekend here before and did not finish it off but I have had a lot of experience since and am swinging it well and stroking it the best I have with the putter so it is a good feeling.

"If they keep presenting the course like it is, it is a birdie fest and with my length I can reach all the par fives so it is a big advantage."

The pre tournament favourite and world number two Yani Tseng was the first to finish closest to Lewis when she birdied her last hole after a day of frustration on the greens. "It felt like along day for me as I got frustrated as I could not make any putts. All my birdies came on the par fives until the 16th and then I had a give in putt at the last. I don't know whether it was my stroke or my head but I just couldn't make a good stroke but I kept patient and hung in there and am proud of myself.

"I'm only one shot behind and if I keep aggressive tomorrow and then I just need to make a few more balls drop into the hole."

Finishing just a few groups ahead of Lewis and the first of the day to actually finish on 10 under was South African Ashleigh Simon. Simon, always a precocious talent as an amateur, won her third event as a professional in 2007 and actually played the PGA Tour for a couple of seasons before returning to the Ladies European Tour. Her round of 66 included two bogeys.

Germany's Sandra Gal also played early on day two and her round of 64 moved her from the threat of a missed cut to contention. The University of Florida graduate will play her fourth LPGA Tour this season and although she has recorded only two top tens in 47 starts she has done well to retain her status and right to play at the highest level. A good tournament this week could just be the catalyst for.

American Ryan O'Toole was a two time winner on the Futures Tour in 2010 allowing her to graduate to the LPGA Tour for the first time for 2011 albeit with limited status. O'Toole turned 24 today and celebrated in style with six birdies in the space of eight holes in the middle of her round to move to 10 under. She actually moved within one when she birdied the par three 16th but dropped a shot at the 17th.

One of the first round leaders, Spain's Maria Hernandez, added two birdies late in her round to also finish at 10 under, Korean Shin-Ae Ahn lived up to her form on the 2010 Korean LPGA Tour with consecutive rounds of 67 and Melissa Reid made it 34 birdies in her last 108 holes when she added a second consecutive round of 67 to be in that large group within two of the lead.

Reid recorded 23 birdies at last week's Australian Women's Open which in itself was an achievement and considerably more than any other player in the field. She finished in a share of second then and could go even better this week.

The cut fell at 4 under one of the lowest in the history of the event. The opening two days have seen the golf course ripped apart by this classy field and if the reigning champion Karrie Webb is to win this week she will need to continue that birdie blitz tomorrow. Webb is at 7 under and five behind the lead. She has a massive task ahead of her, not only that she is five behind but that there are twenty four players ahead of her.

In order for any player to win however they will be require perhaps countless birdies. This weekend it might well be a case of fastening your seat belt.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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