JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Much was expected of Rose Zhang when she turned professional last week, and she is already delivering.
The two-time NCAA champion moved into position to win in her pro debut, shooting a 6-under 66 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mizuho Americans Open.
“I’ve been in this position before, but I haven’t been in this position as a professional, since this is my first week, so I’m really just learning everything that I could,” Zhang said. “Tomorrow, I’ll be just trying to figure out what it feels like to be in the final group, navigate my way through, and I’m sure by the end of the day I’ll be able to, you know, just build my character more.”
The former Stanford star had six birdies in a bogey-free round on a raw, overcast day at Liberty National in jumping to the top of the leaderboard. It's nothing new for the 20-year-old who won 12 of 20 events in her two years in college, with many viewing it as a sign of things to come.
Event 1 is certainly shaping up that way a day to go, and it could have been better. Zhang settled for a tap-in birdie at the driveable 16th hole after hitting her tee shot within about 5 feet.
Cheyenne Knight, who was tied with Minjee Lee for the halfway lead at 7 under, was tied for second with Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand and Aditi Ashok of India, who both shot 68s. Knight had a 69, making a bogey at No, 17 and missing a 10-footer for birdie on the final hole.
Lee (72) was 7 under in fifth place, a shot ahead of Jennifer Kupcho (69) rookie Hae Ran Ryu (66) and Eun-Hee Ji (70).
Stephanie Kyriacoiu of Australia had the best round of the day, shooting a 65 that included an eagle, six birdies and an early bogey. The 22-year-old was at 5 under along with top-ranked Jin Young Ko (73) and fellow South Korean player Sei Young Kim (70).
They will all have to catch Zhang, who was the No. 1 women's amatuer for 141 weeks. She also is on a roll, having won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur this year and her second straight NCAA title last month.
This has been a hectic week for Zhang. Not only did she turn pro, but she has shown a lot of composure on the course and off with the sheer volume of interview requests.
“I still think I’m human so I do feel little small butterflies here and there,” the Irvine, California, resident said, “I’ve been pretty comfortable when I’ve been on the golf course. I’ve been able to tap into my zone and I’ve just been trying to think about how this is the sport that I’ve been playing for the last ten or so years. I’m just doing what I need to do and going back to what my body knows.”
Seven women have won their first start as a pro on the LPGA Tour since 1992, with Hinako Shibuno of Japan the last in the 2019 Women’s British Open.
Knight also has been in her zone looking for her second win on tour and first since 2019. She has been in the top 10 after 36 holes in her last four events.
“I’m excited, but, I mean, yeah, Minjee I think shot 8 under yesterday. Marina (Alex) did, too. It’s out there,” Knight said. “I’m excited to attack, and, yeah, just give myself some chances tomorrow and hopefully they drop.”
Ashok has had only one bogey in three rounds in her search for her first win on this tour.
“I think this golf course especially makes you think a lot,” said Ashok, who has had two top three finishes in recent weeks. “If you get the right angles and if you play it smart I think it’s easier to not drop shots.”
No. 3 ranked Lydia Ko, who was a shot behind the lead entering the round, and No. 8 ranked Brooke Henderson, who was two shots off the pace, finished at 1-under. Ko shot 77, and Henderson 76.
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Tom Canavan, The Associated Press