Thailand's Atthaya surges late to seize LPGA Americas Open lead

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand plays a shot on the way to the second-round lead in the LPGA Mizuho Americas Open (Sarah Stier)
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand plays a shot on the way to the second-round lead in the LPGA Mizuho Americas Open (Sarah Stier)

Thailand's Atthaya Thitikul birdied five of the last seven holes in a bogey-free seven-under par 65 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead in the LPGA Mizuho Americas Open in New Jersey.

The 21-year-old, a two-time LPGA winner and four-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, is on the comeback trail after recovering from a left thumb injury, had seven birdies in all on the way to a nine-under par total of 135, which put her two shots clear of overnight leader Lee So-mi, who posted a one-under 71.

World number one Nelly Korda headed a group three shots off the lead after a 68 for 138. She was joined by Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, who also carded a 68, and Japan's Mao Saigo and Australian Gabriela Ruffels, who both shot 70.

Atthaya, who started the day four shots off the lead, opened with a birdie at the first at Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey, and added another birdie at the third.

But she really heated up on the back nine, grabbing back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th before making three straight birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th -- all par-fours.

Atthaya said she was playing with renewed pleasure in the game after struggling "emotional-wise" on the course last year.

She found her injury absence at the beginning of the season was upsetting, but she said she now has a new perspective.

"Being able to play golf again, it's just like "click" and changed my mind," said Atthaya, who contended early in the Chevron Championship last month in her first tournament of 2024. "Just being able to play golf it's good enough for me.

"Just do the best that you can do out there," she said. "Golf is golf. It's not our identity."

Korda played alongside Atthaya and said her own round "felt like poop" in comparison.

"She's playing phenomenal golf the past two days," said Korda, whose record-equalling run of five wins in five straight LPGA starts ended last week at the Founders Cup.

"I'm happy to be in it -- three back at the halfway point, but hopefully I can give it my best," Korda said.

Lee was delighted to be in contention heading into the weekend. The LPGA rookie got into the field at the last minute on Thursday as the second alternate and seized her chance to take a two-shot lead after 18 holes.

She opened the second round with a bogey at the first, but bounced back with birdies at the fourth and fifth. After bogeys at 10 and 11 she birdied 13 and 16 to get in under par.

"I didn't want to ruin things because of the first bogey," she said. "So I just (tried to) think positive always today."

Meanwhile, the spate of withdrawals that allowed Lee to get into the field continued on Friday, with the LPGA announcing that a total of 10 players had withdrawn -- three because of injury and the rest because of "various illnesses."

The LPGA said medical staff had treated several players for symptoms related to a viral infection.