THE locals are making their move at the Women’s Australian Open with Queensland’s Sarah Jane Smith replacing Katherine Kirk at the top of the leaderboard after a thrilling day’s play at Royal Adelaide Golf Club.
On a day that saw tournament drawcards Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson struggle and make the cut on the number, Smith fired a best-of-the-day 6-under 67 to jump to the outright lead at 9-under.
Henderson slumped to a 4-over 77 while Ko returned a 75 to leave the pair at even par through 36 holes and among the last players to qualify for the weekend.
World Number Two Ariya Jutanugarn has also found the going tough at Royal Adelaide and fired a second consecutive 1-under 72 Friday to be 2-under for the week and T39.
But there were no such struggles for Smith at the top of the standings as she reeled off six birdies and not a single bogey to take the 36-hole lead.
A return to coach Sean Foley, whose commitment to Tiger Woods in recent years had seen Smith move elsewhere, is paying dividends for the 32-year-old.
“I've always really hit the ball well with him but I’ve found that I needed a lot of attention before and then when he started working with Tiger, I didn’t get to see him,” she said.
“I think the time away from him was almost a good thing, it sort of made me learn a little bit and then coming back to him, he’s made things really simple and I’m able to understand a little bit more what I’m doing, I think.
“I had a terrible 2015, basically only kept my card through my short game and that’s not been the case ever before for me.
“So, now that I’m getting everything together at once, it’s translating into better scores.”
SARAH JANE SMITH ROUND 2 PRESS CONFERENCE
Smith grabbed the lead late in the day when Katherine Kirk, whose 8-under 65 on day one held up overnight, made an ugly double-bogey at her 17th hole, the eighth.
Kirk had got to 10-under and a two-shot lead through 14 holes but dropped a shot at the par-4 6th before her costly double-bogey two holes later.
“I hit the ball pretty well but just butchered two chip shots today and yeah, just disappointing coming in to finish double and not make a birdie on the last,” she said.
“A couple of unforced errors, and that’s the way it goes, but yeah, there are lots of positives too, so I’m just going to stay focused on those and give myself 36 chances over the weekend.
“Would I have preferred to have played better today? Yes, but it’s not over until Sunday afternoon. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get back in there.”
Earlier in the day, American Lizette Salas and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum set the clubhouse mark when they each added 3-under rounds of 70 to opening scores of 68 to get to 8-under.
Salas, who made a disappointing bogey at her final hole, felt the lead would be 11-under at the end of the day but will no doubt be heartened to find she is part of a four-way tie for second just one behind.
Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, playing in the third to last group of the day, joined the group of Salas, Phatlum and American Marissa Steen with back-to-back birdies on her last two holes.
Of the other Australians, impressive rookie Hannah Green is also inside the top-10 at 6-under and T9 while Rebecca Artis fired a third round 70 to be 5-under and T13.
Minjee Lee, the highest-ranked Australian in the field, is at 4-under and T20 while her fellow Olympian Su Oh is T31 at 3-under.
Whitney Hillier and Stephanie Na are T39 while Sarah Kemp was the last of the locals to make the cut and is T48 at 1-under.
Among those to miss the cut were amateurs Karis Davidson and Alizza Hetherington, Emma de Groot and Stacey Peters.
Also failing to qualify for the weekend for the first time in 21 appearances at her national championship was the legendary Karrie Webb who added an even-par 73 to an opening 76 to miss by three shots.