Thompson’s lie is appalling, and she needs every fibre of her being just to lash 40 yards up the hole. She’s making a meal of this short par-five. But up on the green, Feng takes three putts from the fringe, the bogey dropping her back to -2. Hataoka, however, having dribbled her long downhill birdie effort six feet past, knocks in the return to save her par. She departs the scene with a spring in her step. Penny for the thoughts of Thompson, back up the hole, looking the other way, trying to rediscover the exact location of The Zone.
The nerves are really kicking in now. Thompson pulls her drive on 17 into the thick stuff down the left. She’ll not be able to reach from there, surely. Up on 18, Khang’s tee shot finds the cabbage down the right, but she gouges a wedge onto the green. She’s a ways from the flag, but that’s a result from where she was. Two putts, and she’ll be setting a new clubhouse lead at -3.
Feng can’t reach the par-five 17th in two from the rough. She doesn’t reach it in three, either, coming up short with her wedge. Hataoka sends her second into thick rough guarding the front, her hybrid hanging up in the breeze. It’s doubly unlucky, because she was inches away from toppling into the bunker, leaving a relatively easy splash. As it is, her ball comes out hot. She’ll have a tricky two putts for par.
Khang isn’t quite finished yet. She lands her approach at 17 a couple of feet from the cup, and tidies up for birdie. She moves to -3. Meanwhile back on 16, Thompson lets her six-foot birdie effort dribble nervously below the cup and she has to settle for par. Saso, having screeched her wedge to three feet, makes birdie. This has become very interesting indeed.
-5: Thompson (16)
-4: Hataoka (16)
-3: Khang (17), Feng (16), Saso (16)
Lexi takes a long time over her approach. Can you blame her? This is one of the biggest shots she’ll have played for a long while. She lands her wedge in the middle of the green, spin putting the brakes on and turning it left, to within six feet of the cup! Meanwhile up on 17, Hataoka whistles a drive down the middle, while Feng picks the wrong time to miss her first fairway of the day. Knowing she needs a birdie here at the very least, her shoulders drop a little.
Thompson isn’t minded to take any unnecessary risks, and lays up with her second at 16. She’s in good nick, 100 yards out, in the middle of the fairway … which is just as well, because up on the green, Hataoka makes her birdie putt, guiding in a right-to-left slider from 12 feet, and the lead is down to one! Par for Shanshan.
-5: Thompson (15)
-4: Hataoka (16)
-3: Feng (16)
Thompson digs deep and finds a cracking drive, just when she really needed it! A big boom that gently draws round the corner. Further up the hole, Feng and Hataoka take turn to find the green in regulation. They’ll have looks at birdie from 25 and 12 feet respectively.
Thompson’s driving may have fallen out of whack, but she’s not misplaced her ability to read the speed of these greens. She rolls a monster birdie up the 15th to a couple of feet, and makes no mistake with the par saver. Two huge tee shots coming up at the back-to-back par fives, though, and her big stick has been misbehaving since the turn.
-5: Thompson (15)
-3: Hataoka (15), Feng (15)
-2: Khang (16), Saso (15)
Ko Jin-young, the 2019 winner of both the ANA and the Evian, cards a 69 and joins Xiyu Lin in the clubhouse lead at +1. Meanwhile on 16, Megan Khang can’t save her par, shoving the putt right, the ball lipping out. Slipping back to -2, the jig may be up for the likeable and relatable 23-year-old from Massachusetts. She responds to events by blowing a raspberry.
Saso finds the green at the par-three 15th, but conservatively so. It’s a long two putts for par from the front, with the pin near the back. Thompson, the nerves beginning to jangle, only just gets on as well. Up on 16, Khang comes up a bit short with a chip from the fringe, and she’ll have a six-foot test to save par.
First up, her playing partner Saso nearly drains a 30-footer for birdie. While she’s doing that, a huge roar crackles across the Lake Course. Turns out it’s only – only! – Celine Herbin holing out from a bunker on 18 (she signs for a 71 and finishes at +3) but that’s surely going to send Thompson’s mind racing. What’s happened there, then? Is somebody eating into her lead? No – neither Hataoka nor Feng can make their birdie putts at 15 – but she can’t make her par saver, and now that lead is down to two.
-5: Thompson (14)
-3: Khang (15), Hataoka (15), Feng (15)
-2: Saso (14)
-1: Yin (15)
Thompson is in danger of opening the door here. She hits a heavy chip and is left with a 15-footer for her par. Big putt coming up.
Thompson’s lie is not the best, but not the worst either. She’s able to whip hard up the track, the ball bouncing off into the first cut on the left, just in front of the green. That’s a decent effort, all told, though it’s a big up and down coming up. On 15, Hataoka sends her tee shot over the flag, the ball holding the back of the green. She’ll have a look from ten feet at a third consecutive birdie. Her playing partner Feng finds the heart of the green, straight but well short. And on 16, Khang blooters a drive down the middle. What she’d give to take back yesterday’s back nine of 40. She’s shown great spirit to keep fighting after that.
Thompson’s tee-box satnav is still on the blink. She takes 3-wood at 14 and sends a huge slice into more thick nonsense down the right. You can’t be driving like this round here, and expect to win the US Open. Then again, this is what Saso was doing yesterday, and she got away with it pretty much every time. Lexi would take more of the same right now. Meanwhile up on 14, Hataoka creams her second to four feet en route to back-to-back birdies. She’s -3.
Thompson pulls her very makeable birdie putt at 13 left of the cup. She’ll have to settle for par. Up on 15, Khang whips a delicate chip from the back to three feet and tidies up for par; that’s a fine up and down from a tight spot.
On the par-three 15th, Khang is 12 inches short of slam-dunking her tee shot into the cup for an ace. But it bounds past and into the thick stuff at the back. On the par-three 13th, Thompson fires a brave tee shot straight at the flag, and leaves herself an eight-foot uphill birdie putt. All smiles again, after a couple of nervous holes. And Xiyu Lin of China signs for a 67 that gives her the early clubhouse lead at +1. This’ll be the 25-year-old’s best finish in a major by some distance.
Before Khang can tidy up on 14, Nasa Hataoka takes aim from the fringe at 13. She sends an oscillating effort into the cup for birdie, and the 22-year-old Japanese star, who already has four top-ten finishes to her name in the majors, gets properly involved in this tournament. Bogey for Lee6, though. Then Khang makes her birdie, and this leaderboard is beginning to look rather interesting.
-6: Thompson (12)
-3: Khang (14), Feng (13)
-2: Hataoka (13), Saso (12)
-1: Yin (14)
E: Lee6 (13)
Thompson elects to putt from the hill at the back of 12. Great decision. She judges the length perfectly, lagging it from 40 feet to 18 inches. She scrambles a nerve-settling par to remain at -6. A two-putt par for Feng on 13. And up on 14, there’s a textbook birdie for Megan Khang, who batters a drive down the middle, then sends her second similarly straight, to a couple of feet. She’ll have that for a birdie and share of second.
Thompson takes her sweet time over her second. Not sure this over-thinking is doing her any good. Her ball comes out hot and rolls down the hill at the back of the green. That’s where Feng found herself, ending up with bogey. Speaking of Shanshan, she’s just found the heart of the par-three 13th. Nowhere near the flag, but look what happened to Angel Yin when she failed to find the green.
The tension has been cranked up all across the Lake Course. Thompson sends a slice into the thick stuff down the right of 12. This is no time for her driver to start malfunctioning, not on a course as penal as this.
Thompson may have stumbled, but those around her are making mistakes too. Feng can’t make her par saver on 12. Yin meanwhile takes three putts on her way to a double at the 144-yard par-three 12th. And while Lexi was making a mess of 11, Saso was bogeying it too, punishment for overhitting a chip from the back of the green and sending her ball toppling down a ridge. The back nine on Sunday at a major championship, ladies and gentlemen!
-6: Thompson (11)
-3: Feng (12)
-2: Khang (13), Saso (11)
-1: Yin (13), Hataoka (12) Lee6 (12)
Thompson’s lead is suddenly only two. Her monster par putt breaks six feet to the right, then for the first time she prods with great uncertainty at a putt, sending it bobbling to the right of the cup. Her first double of the week, and suddenly this tournament takes on a different complexion.
-6: Thompson (11)
-4: Feng (11)
-3: Yin (12)
-2: Khang (13), Saso (11)
Feng’s second into 12 bounds over the back. She gives the subsequent chip too much. “Sit! Sit!” The ball does not sit. She’ll have a 12-footer coming back for par. Meanawhile on the par-three 13th, trouble for Yin, whose tee shot tipples down the swale to the left of the green. Shortsided, she tries to stun her chip into the bank, hoping it’ll take all the pace out of it … but her aim is poor and the ball flies through the green. A long par putt remains.
Thompson takes a long time over her chip. She steps away from it a couple of times, clearly in two minds. Unsettled, it’s no huge surprise when she chunks it. Time to regroup, because things can unravel quickly around the Olympic Club. Big putt from the fringe, in more ways than one, coming up. Meanwhile the first-round leader Mel Reid is in with her second 78 of the weekend, and finishes the week at +12.
It’s not the greatest of lies. Thompson hacks out hard, but she can’t get the ball to the green. She’s a good 30 yards short. A big up-and-down attempt coming up.
Feng launches a 5-iron straight at the flag on 11. That’s a fine shot, and she’ll get a look at birdie from ten feet. She doesn’t make the putt, though, the ball breaking off to the left on its last turn, and the chance to reduce the lead to three is gone. Back on the tee, Thompson pulls her drive into the thick stuff down the left. A slight look of concern washes across her face as she imagines the lie.
Thompson misreads the line, the ball breaking well left, but pace is her friend. Perfectly judged, and she’s left with a two-footer to tidy up. Which she does, without fear or fuss. For a player who has often succumbed to nerves from short distances, she’s holding herself together wonderfully. There doesn’t seem a chink in her armour this week, though the back nine at a major is different terrain.
A three-putt bogey for Khang on 11. Her putter’s let her down again, for the second time in three holes. She’s -2. Meanwhile a minor mistake by the leader on 10, as Thompson leaves a wedge short of the green from 70 yards. She’s left with a 30-foot putt across a ridge.
A long birdie putt for Feng on 10 comes up short. Par. She’s -4. Up on 11, Yin sends an arrow straight at the flag and leaves herself a six-foot look for birdie. But she sends a fidgety effort to the right, and that’s a huge chance to grab a share of second spurned.
Thompson sends her second at 9 to ten feet, then looks to have made the birdie putt. The ball inexplicably stays up, teetering on the right-hand edge of the cup. You’d expect it to topple, but it’s not cooperating, and she’s forced to tap in for par. Still, she’s out in 34, which compares favourably to her partners Saso (38) and Ganne (41). Thompson remains four in front at -8.
Nasa Hataoka rattles in a right-to-left 20-footer on 9, and that’s her second birdie in three holes. She’s back to -2. She’s going round with Shanshan Feng, who has now grabbed second spot all for herself after sending her approach to four feet and tidying up for birdie. Back down the hole, Thompson splits the fairway with a booming 3-wood. And up on 10, Khang sends her second pin high to eight feet, and knocks in the birdie putt. It only just drops, mind. That needed every single joule of energy. She smiles at her caddy and mimes a heart flutter. Khang is great value.
-8: Thompson (8)
-4: Feng (9)
-3: Yin (10), Khang (10), Saso (8)
-2: Hataoka (9)
-1: Lee6 (9)
Saso chips delicately to a couple of feet. What an up and down! The 19-year-old Filipino has responded excellently to those back-to-back doubles early in her round. For a while it looked as though her head was spinning, but she’s showing real moxie here. Thompson meanwhile leaves her long birdie putt four feet short, and here comes the first test for a player whose flat stick has misbehaved in the past. No problem! In it goes. The gap’s still five.
With shots in hand, Lexi can afford to play smart. Saso has to go for the pin at the par-three 8th. It’s tucked away front left, and though she sends it close, her ball bounds into the rough. Shortsided and in the thick stuff, that’ll be one heck of a chip to face. Thompson responds by aiming for the middle of the green. No point looking for trouble.