Date: April 06, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes

Kirk roars into ANA contention

Katherine Kirk is hot at the right time.

For the second straight day at the ANA Inspiration in California, the Australian briefly hit the front of the year's first major.

But so impressive was her early form that even when she cooled, Kirk's second-round 68 was good enough to sit solo second at Rancho Mirage at the halfway mark.

On a day that otherwise had little else to commend it to Australian fans, the Queenslander's heroics more than made amends.

Starting on the first at one under, she made birdies at the first and second holes, caught fire with three straight from the seventh and then added another on the 11th to touch seven under and past the equally impressive In-Kyung Kim.

From that point on the Mission Hills course, as it had a day earlier, the afternoon breeze stiffened and things became tougher.

But even after a couple of late bogeys, Kirk had done enough to finish at five under and clear of all but Kim, who surged late to reach eight under.

Of the other Aussies, Minjee Lee birdied early in her second round to reach even par, but couldn't progress further and endured three bogeys to leak backwards to a share of 48th at three over.

Mother-to-be Sarah Jane Smith was the only other Aussie to survive the cut, right on the +5 mark after her own 75.

Hannah Green battled hard for her 75 to finish 11 over alongside Sarah Kemp (79), while Karrie Webb (79) and Su Oh (80) each finished at 13 over.

So, with 27 women at par or better on a course playing tougher than last year and barring a miracle, it will fall to Kirk to fly the Aussie flag.

And the veteran four-time LPGA Tour winner seems up for the challenge as she tries for a first major crown after four times finishing in the top 10 previously.

"It was textbook golf out there, which is always fun," Kirk beamed.

"Lots of good numbers, good opportunities and made some putts.

"It would have been nice to keep it going on the back (nine), but it was a lot harder, the wind picked up and there were a few tucked pins and you couldn't be that aggressive on the back.

"It was unfortunate with the bogey-bogey finish, but that's golf and I'm still in a good position and I'm going to look at the positives and go from there.

"I didn't look at too many leadlerboards – it's a major, it's head-down mentality and grind it out as best you can because there are no easy holes and as soon as you metnally check out, that's when errors start to happen."

Kirk will be in the final group out in the third round alongside Kim, the 30-year-old Korean who herself has been a fixture in major championship top-10s for a decade, including victory in the 2017 Women's British Open.