BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (AP) — Two days of that notorious Oklahoma wind has taken a toll at the SemGroup Championship, with Paula Creamer in the lead as the only player under par and Lorena Ochoa suffering through her worst scoring in two years.
The weekend forecast was for tamer wind, and the reaction from Creamer and Ochoa spoke to their position on the leaderboard.
Creamer winced and pursed her lips.
“I’d rather have it keep blowing,” Creamer said Friday after an even-par 71, again dropping two shots over the closing holes. “The harder it is, the better I play, the more confidence I have out there. But if it stops blowing, we’re going to have to make more birdies.”
Ochoa’s brown eyes lit up, and she smiled.
“That’s good news,” she said after a 3-over 74, leaving her six shots behind.
Ochoa is going for a record-tying fifth straight victory on the LPGA Tour, and she is in a rare position of having a lot of ground to make up. The 26-year-old from Mexico was in a tie for 21st at 5-over 147, and the gap looked even wider as she stood under oak trees that were swaying and shaking in the wind. Catching up usually means making birdies, and Ochoa hasn’t found hardly any of those at Cedar Ridge.
For the first time in just over two years, dating to the third round of the 2006 Ginn Open, she failed to record a single birdie, stretching her drought of subpar holes at this tournament to 26 holes going into the weekend.
And it was the first time since the 2006 Women’s British Open that Ochoa had two rounds over par in the same tournament.
She was asked if she could attack Cedar Ridge in the wind, and Ochoa quickly shook her head.
“That’s why it’s frustrating,” she said. “I know I need to make birdies to catch up, but at the same time, it’s impossible. I’m going to be happy, not disappointed. I’m not too far from the leaders, and we have two days to go.”
That’s one area that brought a unified answer from Ochoa and Creamer.
“There’s a lot of golf left,” Creamer said.
Creamer, who was at 1-under 141, has won four of her five LPGA Tour events with at least a share of the 36-hole lead, although the SemGroup Championship remains ripe with possibilities.
Ji Young Oh settled for a 72 in the afternoon and was at even-par 142.
Another shot behind was Brittany Lang (71) and Leta Lindley (72), who couldn’t hit the ball any differently — Lang looks like she hits it a mile; Lindley, who carries a driver and five fairway metals, looks like she barely moves it an inch.
The group at 145 included Juli Inkster, who was poised to be in the final group until chunking an approach into the water for double bogey on the 17th and missing a 3-foot par putt on the 18th, giving her a 73. She was joined by Na On Min, who contended at the LPGA Championship last year and turned in a tournament-best 68.
Lurking impressively at 146 was Vicky Hurst, the 17-year-old from Florida with a swing that sets her apart from most of these players. Hurst leads the tournament with nine birdies, but she has struggled with some of the short par putts.
The scoring average Friday was 75.4, nearly 1 1/2 strokes easier than the opening round, when the wind came out of a different direction. The difficulty can be measured in the cut — 70 players made it at 10 over, the highest cut on the LPGA Tour since the 2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Ashli Bunch made it on the number, despite failing to make a single birdie in two rounds.
Ochoa only has one birdie, along with an eagle, both in the first round. It was a stunning scorecard from someone who came into this tournament averaging 5.39 birdies per round.
“I don’t know what happened,” Ochoa said. “I don’t feel bad. It’s hard to hit the ball close to the hole. I have nobody to blame. I didn’t give myself enough birdie chances.”
Creamer didn’t have a ton of chances, but she made them — a 5-iron to 15 feet on the 11th hole, her best shot of the day; a 30-foot birdie on the par-5 14th after the wind knocked down her wedge; and a 12-footer at No. 3 when her 8-iron clipped a branch in the fairway, barely cleared the water and caught a ridge on the green.
But for the second straight day, her most important shot might have been a bogey.
Creamer hit a 3-wood for her second shot on the 401-yard fourth hole, which plays uphill and into the wind, over the green and down a slope to a muddy patch of thin grass. She tried a flop shot and caught too much ball, eventually sending the ball off the front of the green. But from 100 feet away, she lagged to 8 feet and escaped with bogey.
“Those are bigger putts than birdies out here,” Creamer said. “Then again, when you get those chances for birdies, you have to be able to capitalize on them, because there aren’t that many.”
Ochoa knows that all too well.
She had only three birdie putts inside 15 feet, and didn’t make any of them. Her best opportunity was on the downwind, par-5 14th, when her 3-wood was just short of a bunker. She pitched too strong, and the ball rolled down a slight ridge to some 20 feet. Ochoa stooped over and clasped the back of her head, and when her birdie putt missed, she gave her thigh a hard, loud slap.
The bogeys came from a 7-iron she had to punch low under tree limbs and through the green on No. 3, a hybrid on the tough fourth hole that sailed 20 yards right of the green, and the 18th, when she hooked a tee shot into a bunker, hit a hybrid over the green and followed with a poor chip that didn’t even reach the putting surface.
“It’s not over,” Ochoa said. “Tomorrow is every important.”