ROGERS, Ark. (AP) – Stacy Lewis has made no secret about her desire to earn a championship in front of her adopted hometown fans.
The world's No. 2 golfer has also been open about how that internal pressure has caused her to struggle in recent years at the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.
Lewis put all distractions aside on Saturday, shooting a 6-under 65 to join a group of four players atop the leaderboard at 10 under overall after the second round of the tournament at Pinnacle Country Club.
The round was a welcomed bit of excitement for a surging and vocal gallery that followed Lewis' every shot. It was especially gratifying for the former world No. 1, who played collegiately at nearby Arkansas – and who has struggled to contend in recent years at the tournament.
Lewis earned an unofficial win at the rain-shortened event as an amateur in 2007. Since then, however, the former Rookie of the Year and last year's Player of the Year entered this week having finished in an average of 23rd place in front of her many fans – including a 49th-place finish last year.
Back-to-back wins earlier this year briefly vaulted Lewis into the top spot in the world rankings, a position she said prepared her for the hectic schedule she faces this week.
“It's everything I deal with this year with the week that I became No. 1 in the world. It was just chaos,'' Lewis said. “Dealing with that pressure of being No. 1 in the world, I learned a lot from that.
“I honestly think that's why I've come here this week and it doesn't seem so busy anymore, doesn't seem too hard to play with all the fans.''
Chie Arimura and Beatriz Recari both equaled Lewis' 65 on Saturday and are tied entering the final round with So Yeon Ryu.
I.K. Kim and defending champion Ai Miyazato tied for the lowest round of the day, each shooting a 7-under 64.
First-round leader Mika Miyazato shot a 70 and is three shots back, while top-ranked Inbee Park leads a group of three players two shots back at 8 under.
They will all be chasing Lewis on Sunday, at least in terms of the attention from the galleries to begin with. She will be paired with Recari in the final grouping of the day, and she is well aware of the excitement she will feel.
“I think the harder part is I'm going to want it so bad, and I know the fans are going to want me to get it really bad,'' Lewis said. “So, it's going to be hard. The hardest part is going to be staying patient and not trying to force putts and running them four feet by (the hole).''
Lewis was as low as 11 under after 17 holes on Saturday, thanks in large part to needing only 27 putts for her round – a number that included several near misses and a three-putt on her final hole. The 28-year-old Lewis, who played during the morning, thrilled her pro-Arkansas gallery with four straight birdies on her first nine holes.
After starting on the back nine, she birdied holes 14-17 to reach 8 under before the par-5 18th took its toll. Lewis' approach on her third shot came up just short and rolled to the bottom of the hill in front of the green. Her following chip did the same.
Fortunately for Lewis, she managed to save bogey with an up-and-down – thanks to her fifth straight one-putt. She then reached 11 under after four more birdies later in her round before bogeying her final hole of the day.
Lewis will have plenty of challengers Sunday on a leaderboard that features seven players within two shots of the lead, including Park – with two major wins this year.
Arimura, the rookie from China, also needed only 27 putts on Saturday in shooting a bogey-free 65. She tied for the lead with birdies on her final two holes. Ryu birdied the par-5 7th hole – her 16th hole of the round – to reach 10 under in the final tournament before next week's U.S. Open.
Recari also posted a bogey-free round, birdieing four of her first seven holes before making the last of her six birdies on the par-5 14th. The Spanish golfer already has one win this year, the Kia Classic in March.
“I think overall I'm pretty happy and proud of how I handled myself the last two days,'' Recari said. “I have a very clear idea of what I have to do mentally, so I feel very confident and very good for my last round.''
Kim, Pornanong Phatlum and Ji Young Oh are each at 8 under along with Park, while amateur Lydia Ko and Miyazato are at 7 under.
Juli Inkster followed an opening 71 with a 6-under 65 on Saturday.
Lewis, meanwhile, said she planned to play a round of golf with her nephew on Saturday afternoon before relaxing for the rest of the day in anticipation of what she hopes is a hometown celebration on Sunday.
“I'm definitely going to use the crowd some, but then I need to also just kind of scale it back and just stay in what I am doing right now because it's working,'' Lewis said.