Jin Hee Im, Atthaya Thitikul lead at Chevron; Nelly Korda 1 shot back

Jin Hee Im and Atthaya Thitikul carded matching rounds of 5-under-par 67 on Friday to share the lead after two rounds of the Chevron Championship, the first women’s major of the year at The Woodlands, Texas.

South Korea’s Im, who had a bogey-free round, and Thailand’s Thitikul, who recorded six birdies and one bogey, are tied at 8-under 136 after 36 holes at The Club at Carlton Woods.

Alone in third and one stroke back after a 69 on Friday is world No. 1 Nelly Korda, who is attempting to win her fifth straight start on the LPGA Tour. She didn’t look like the top golfer with a double bogey to start her day at the par-4 first hole, but she recovered quickly with birdies at two of the next three holes.

“Yeah, started out with a double. That was fun,” Korda quipped. “I hit two shots out of the left fairway bunker. Just kind of didn’t catch it super clean and it didn’t actually hit the bunker lining, just the grass, and bumped back in.

“Then I bounced back with a birdie and made a birdie on the following par-5.”

A bogey at the par-3 seventh hole set her back to 3 under for the tournament, but again she rebounded with two birdies, consecutively this time at Nos. 8-9. The back nine was less adventurous with birdies at Nos. 13 and 18 and seven pars.

“Yeah, kind of all over the place on the front nine, but pretty clean scorecard on the back with two birdies,” Korda said.

Korda said she isn’t thinking ahead to the possibility of winning a fifth event.

“I’m just at the halfway point right now,” Korda said. “The amount of golf that I’ve played, I still have that to go. There is still a lot of golf left and anything can happen.

“Just going to stick to my process and vibe with it is what my coach says,” she added with a smile.

South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu has fourth place to herself after a 66, leaving her at 6 under for the tournament. Another South Korean, Shinsil Bang (65), is in a five-way tie at 5 under.

First-round leader Lauren Coughlin is in that group, as she followed her 66 on Thursday with a 1-over 73. Coughlin bogeyed par-4s at Nos, 2, 9 and 14 but came through with an eagle at the par-five No. 8.

“I would say I didn’t quite hit it as good as I did (Thursday) for sure,” Coughlin said. “I still kind of missed in some good spots and lipped out about a 6-footer on my second hole. Other than that, I played really solid still.

“(Thursday) I hit just some tap-ins but did make eagle (Friday) on 8, which was really solid,” she continued. “I hit it to like 3 feet. Other than that, yeah, just wasn’t quite my day.”

Im is playing her first major as an LPGA Tour member.

“It’s like (the) first time leading the tournament in LPGA, so like I don’t have any pressure. I enjoyed (the) rest of round,” she said.

Her bogey-free round featured birdies at Nos. 4, 6, 8, 13 and 17.

“Pretty hard to play bogey-free every course, but especially on this course,” she said. “Bogey-free today feels like four rounds bogey-free.”

Thitikul, a two-time LPGA winner, won the Vare Trophy last season for lowest scoring average. She had not played previously this season because of a left thumb injury.

“I think the mindset was kind of change after, you know, injury and then stay in my hometown,” Thitikul said. “So I kind of have a lot of the time with my family, my friends out there. And then, yeah, it’s kind of relax.

“And coming back being … able to play golf again (is) just the most important thing.”