The Chevron Championship: Patty Tavatanakit’s Mission (Hills) to defend is right on track

2019 AIG Women’s Open champion Hinaki Shibuno leads but last year’s champion is hot on her heels.

In its history as host of the first Major Championship of the year, Missions Hills in Rancho Mirage has amassed a number of traditions.

The town is known for a raucous party scene, the course is recognised as a ball-striking test, and the winner always jumps into Poppie's Pond.

Less well-appreciated is that front runners have an astounding record on the layout.

The last 25 winners of this event? 21 of them (and each of the last 11) were tied third or better at the halfway point.

Three of the exceptions were tied seventh or better and within three blows.

Only Morgan Pressel in 2007 was a real bolter. She had been T15th and six blows back of the lead after two rounds.

There have been parties this week, the track remains a favourite of ball-strikers and the winner will jump in the water. Will that other tradition maintain?

75 players might have made the cut, but that trend suggests that the current top four will take some beating.

The 2019 AIG Women's Open champion Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, leads after posting a second round 66 to total 9-under 135. Defending champion Patty Tavatanakit, Jennifer Kupcho and Annie Park share second, one shot back.

Each of the quartet has a tale to tell.

Shibuno spent the second half of 2021 at home in Japan, collecting two wins in October, and she added a top 10 finish in Thailand, back on the LPGA, last month.

She struggled in the Majors last year, but feels she maybe turning a corner.

"My golf game is a lot different than I won the 2019 British Open, but my personality is not different at all," she said after swapping seven birdies and one bogey. "(I'm playing) more mature golf."

She's also got a distinct method for taking on Missions Hills, swinging hard from the tee to give herself shorter approaches to the green, although she is wary of the lush rough.

Kupcho, who three years ago this week was winning the Augusta National Women's Amateur, has flirted with good results in this tournament and also contended in the Evian and KPMG PGA Championship.

"I think my ball-striking is always pretty good," she said. "And specifically out on a Major golf course, that's kind of the name of the game, to hit fairways and greens. It's my kind of game, too."

Her biggest threat at the weekend might be her temper. "I wouldn't say I stayed very patient," she said of her bogey-free 70 on Friday. "I definitely got a little angry sometimes."

Park has played the first two rounds by herself and on Friday she was out early and flying, 3-under through six.

"There's a lot of talking to myself and being stuck with my caddie's dad jokes," she laughed.

"Yesterday I was just chilling, taking my time. Then I realized the group behind me had started to catch up and I'm like, I'm going to get a warning at this rate, playing by myself!

"So, yeah, kind of weird yesterday, but today I kind of got used to it. I think when I made the turn and started waiting on players in the group in front of me, kind of just starts to feel like normal golf all over again."

Tavatanakit continues to find Mission Hills to her taste and, in fact, she admitted she's felt that way since the start of last year.

"I've kind of felt comfortable ever since last year. I just kind of have that belief in myself.

"But it's still golf. You don't know what's going to happen. You don't even know what's going to happen tomorrow in general. So just going to keep pedalling and keep moving."

Among those looking to pounce of the leaders fail to live up to history are in the in-form Dane Nanna Koerstz Madsen, three back on 6-under, plus course expert Lexi Thompson and England's Georgia Hall, four back.

The World No. 1 Jin Young Ko carded a 68 to make the cut and move to T29th on 2-under for the week. She had a big task on her hands to land a third Major Championship.

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