17 Feb 2017
Another day, another Australian at the top, and a second Queenslander to boot.
Sarah Jane Smith shares with Katherine Kirk, the first-round leader, the fact that they have lived in the considerable shadow of Karrie Webb for more than a decade while they plied their trade in America, carving out the sort of solid yet unheralded careers that Webb talked about earlier this week.
But she is in the spotlight right now as the leader of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open.
Smith, 32, originally from Geelong but more lately from Florida and on her sojourns at home, on the Sunshine Coast, was unequivocally brilliant with a second-round 67, six-under the card in conditions that were less than the snack that was handed to the morning players on Thursday.
She joined the lead, held by Kirk, with a tap-in birdie at the par-five 17th and by the time she teed off at the 18th, news filtered through that Kirk had dropped another shot. Unawares, Smith went down the last hole and almost chipped in for birdie, eventually tapping in for a six-under score with six birdies and no blemishes.
At nine-under, she has a buffer of a shot from four players -- Americans Lizette Salas and Marissa Steen, Sweden's Caroline Hedwall and Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum -- going into the weekend. Kirk, who faded late with a double bogey at her 17th (the eighth hole) when she thinned her nine-iron approach to the par-four, held the lead outright at several points of the day but ended up two shots back, still right in contention.
As for the 42-year-old Webb, she missed the cut for the first time in her Australian Open history, finishing at three-over, the same place that she started the day.
Smith admitted she would be thinking about the result even though there are two days of grinding to go. "I'd be lying if I (said I) didn't think about but obviously that's not the main focus over the next two days. But obviously it'd be a dream come true and something I think every young Australian thinks about at some point. So to be even in a position right now, it's very exciting.''
The Queenslander has never won a big tournament; her only triumphs being on the Futures Tour in the USA not long after she turned pro in 2004. But this is her biggest chance, in a fully-sanctioned LPGA Tour event and in her home country.
Smith had her best year in America last year and was runner-up in the ALPG's Gold Coast tournament recently; she has returned to her old coach, Sean Foley, sometime mentor for Tiger Woods, and the combination is working.
More than a decade ago as an invited amateur named Sarah Jane Kenyon she finished tied-10th in a Women's Australian Open at Concord in Sydney, and she has never bettered that result in her national Open.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko, apparently out of sorts with her new clubs, new coach and new caddie, made the cut by the barest margin and is nine shots from the lead.
World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn also has some work to do at two under, while South Korea's Ha Na Jang (three-under) is vaguely in the mix, while Canada's Brook Henderson, the world No. 8, needed to make a putt of more than a metre for bogey at the 18th to make the cut.
It has not been a week for the big names thus far, although the big galleries were out again at Royal Adelaide to watch them, just as they embraced the event at The Grange last year. All of which has cleared the way for the likes of Smith, the Australian with the sunny disposition, who knows that she needs to stay strong to win.
"I've got to control my nerves,'' she said. "I was in contention in Mexico at the end of the year and Saturday got the best of me. I got out of the round, shot even or one-under, but it was a struggle. I actually said to (husband and caddie) Duane 'get me out of here'. I wanted to get off the golf course but Sunday I kind of relaxed and had a good day. I'm hoping I've learned from that I can relax a bit and continue what I'm doing.''