Friday, December 29, 2017

Jerry Ji and Lily May Humphreys both go four clear at Junior Orange Bowl championship

By: Jeff Shain
CORAL GABLES, Florida – Following up one stellar round with another is never easy, and Jerry Ji acknowledged he felt “a little shaky” as he teed off for Thursday’s second round of the 54th Junior Orange Bowl International boys' competition.
Then the Dutch teen chipped in for birdie on his opening hole. Three holes later, a bunker blast tracked into the cup. That’ll settle anyone down.
Not even a pair of three-putts over the final seven holes could put much of a damper on Ji’s 6-under-65, opening a four-shot lead over a pair of European rivals as the acclaimed tournament reached the midway point.
“I was playing really solid,” said Ji, whose two-day total of 13-under 129 at the historic Biltmore Golf Course put him in sight of the tournament scoring record. “My short game today was a lot better than yesterday. It kind of saved me today.”
Lily May Humphreys also opened a four-shot gap atop the girls’ division, carding a bogey-free 67 on Thursday to pull away from a crowd of pursuers.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now,” the English 15-year-old women's champion said after just her sixth competitive round on U.S. soil (she finished joint fourth in last week's Dizie Women's Amateur).
 “The thing I’ve just been struggling with is the different kind of grass you have here. … I think I’m getting the hang of it now.”
Though conditions were slightly breezier than Wednesday’s opening round, competitors continued to find good shots rewarded on the Biltmore lay-out. Three dozen entrants turned in scores of par or better, a slight increase from the opening round.
“It’s as wide as (we play) in Europe, but the greens are tough to hit into,” said Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard, whose 66 on Thursday left him with a share of second behind Ji. “There’s more (raised) greens; we have nothing in Europe like it.”
Belgium’s Adrien Dumont de Chassart, runner-up two years ago, stood tied with Hojgaard after matching the week’s best round with a 64.
The Junior Orange Bowl International has helped showcase many young golfers who later later made it to the PGA Tour, European Tour or LPGA circuit. While Tiger Woods, Hall of Famer Inbee Park and LPGA standouts Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson are counted among its champions, the event also has hosted such players as Matt Kuchar, Nick Price, José María Olazábal and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia.
This year’s field of invitees includes those from such outposts as Argentina, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, China, Portugal, Malaysia, Switzerland, Nigeria, Norway, Croatia and Qatar.
Ji, who tied for eighth in last year’s edition, showed no letup Thursday after his opening 64. He birdied three of his first four holes, then eagled the par-5 18th to complete his first 27 holes in 12-under par.
Two more birdies got him to 14-under for the week before a little slippage. He three-putted No.3, made it up with a birdie two holes later but three-putted again at No.9.
“It just felt like a new round with new chances,” he said. “I didn’t really take anything from yesterday with me today. I kind of like it.”
Ji’s play has him within striking distance of James Vargas’ JOBI scoring record of 23-under par set in 2001, though he’s trying not to get ahead of himself.
“You have to focus on the present and not the future,” he said. “There’s two rounds to go, and anything can happen.”
Dumont de Chassart also got off to a hot start with four birdies in his first six holes, finishing with eight birdies and a lone bogey stemming from a three-putt at No.10. Some extra work on the range helped him hit his approach shots closer.
“I had a lot of short wedges and probably missed only one,” he said. “I was definitely a lot closer than yesterday.”
Humphreys’ second round was a stark contrast to her first, when she countered four bogeys with four birdies and an eagle. Thursday saw no bogeys, completing 36 holes at 6-under 136.
“I kind of found my way around on what I had to do to help myself,” said the English teen, who owns five wins in Europe this year and made her U.S. debut by placing joint fourth at the Dixie Women’s Amateur.
She broke a long string of pars when she striped a 7-iron within 4 feet for birdie at No.13. She followed with a 15-foot birdie at No.14 and added one from similar length at the 15th.
Mexico’s Cory Lopez (69) and Japan’s Goto Miyu (68) stood tied for second at 2-under 140, with Puerto Rico’s Valeria Pacheco (67) another shot back.
Like Humphreys, Lopez spent her front nine spinning her wheels before the birdie putts started to fall after the turn.
“They were well-struck; they just didn’t go in,” she said. “Then they just started going in.”
A short birdie at No.11 broke the drought, adding birdies on both back-nine par-5s to move into contention.





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