Yang Forges Ahead At Midway Point of U.S. Women's Open July 10, 2015 | Lancaster, Pa. By David Shefter, USGA

Four consecutive birdies on Amy Yang's inward nine lifted her to a 4-under 66 on Friday and a three-stroke lead through two rounds. (USGA/Hunter Martin)

Has Punxsutawney Phil made a 3½-hour journey to Lancaster Country Club?

To Amy Yang, it might seem like Groundhog Day at the U.S. Women’s Open.

The 25-year-old from the Republic of Korea has made a habit of contending at the national championship with four top-10 finishes in her last five appearances.

And at the midway point of the 70th Women’s Open, Yang finds herself contending yet again. The owner of six worldwide victories blistered the 6,289-yard William Flynn design in Friday’s second round, carding a 4-under 66 for a three-stroke lead over world No. 3 Stacy Lewis and Shiho Oyama, of Japan.

Yang, who birdied four consecutive holes from No. 11, came within a stroke of Helen Alfredsson’s 36-hole scoring record of 132, set in 1994.

Oyama, one of the last players to qualify for the championship by moving inside the top 50 of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings at the final cutoff on Monday, matched Yang’s 66, while Lewis, a two-time major champion, carded a 67. Yang and Lewis are the only two players to have bettered par in both rounds.  

Marina Alex, who shared the first-round lead with Jane Park and two-time champion and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, is four strokes behind after a 71.

Round 2 Recap

Webb and Park each shot 2-over 72s and are among a group of six players at 138 that also includes world No. 1 and two-time Women’s Open champion Inbee Park, Morgan Pressel, In Gee Chun and Rumi Yoshiba, a qualifier from Japan. 

“I feel like I am in good position,” said Inbee Park, who posted 19-under 273 in winning last month’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the year’s second major championship. “I felt like I played consistent out there today. The ball-striking was a little bit better than [Thursday].”

Defending champion Michelle Wie shot 2-under 68 and is seven back of Yang.

The cut came at 4-over 144 with 58 professionals and five amateurs surviving to play the weekend. Of those 63 players, 18 came through sectional qualifying.

After nondescript performances in her first three Women’s Open appearances, Yang, whose two LPGA Tour victories have come during the circuit’s Asian swing, has consistently contended for the biggest prize in women’s professional golf.

She tied for fifth in 2010 at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, tied for 10th a year later at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and was the runner-up to countrywoman Na Yeon Choi in 2012 at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis. Last year at Pinehurst No. 2, she held the 54-hole lead, only to shoot a final-round 74 to finish fourth, four strokes behind winner Michelle Wie.

“I know the kind of pressure that [occurs in the U.S. Women’s Open] and I think I can handle that now,” said Yang. “It's better to have the experience of that.”

The conditions couldn’t have been better. After a late-afternoon thunderstorm suspended play on Thursday, bright sunshine, gentle breezes and low humidity greeted the field on Friday. The greens remained relatively soft and Yang aggressively fired at flagsticks, especially on the second nine.

She hit a 7-iron to 6 feet at No. 11, a 9-iron to 5 feet at the par-3 12th, a wedge to 18 feet at the par-5 13th and an 8-iron to 2 feet at No. 14 to close out the birdie run. Needing only 57 putts through two rounds, Yang has adjusted nicely to the green speeds. Many players have commented about the greens being uncharacteristically slow for a Women’s Open due to the rain.

“Yeah, it is a little slow and soft, but I make sure I practice before,” said Yang, who had one birdie and one bogey over her first nine holes. “My first thing is to get the speed when I get to the golf course.”

Speaking of pace, it was Lewis who was the early pacesetter at Pinehurst No. 2 a year ago. She faltered in the middle two rounds before making a Sunday charge, only to come up two shots shy of Wie. This time around, the 11-time LPGA Tour winner grinded out a 69 on Thursday before putting on a ball-striking clinic on Friday, hitting 16 of 18 greens. Other than a three-putt on 14 and a poor approach that led to a bogey on the ninth hole – her last of the day – Lewis felt good about the performance.

She birdied Nos. 15, 17, 2, 4 and 5 before ending with an approach that found the left greenside bunker and a missed 12-foot par putt.

“I just started playing golf, is really what it was,” said Lewis. “I was thinking a lot about my golf swing [the first 10 or 11 holes] and just not playing. I hit the irons today probably the best I've hit them in a really long time, so it was really nice.”

While Lewis enters the weekend in a trailing position, she knows from experience that she can’t force the issue.

“Staying patient,” said Lewis of her mindset. “When you're a couple back of the lead at a normal tournament you can think let's go and try to make some birdies. But here you just can't try to make birdies, you've got to try to hit good shots and that's what I need to keep telling myself tomorrow.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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