Awesome Ashok storms into 2-shot lead in Aramco Saudi Ladies International

Awesome Ashok storms into 2-shot lead in Aramco Saudi Ladies International
Awesome Ashok storms into 2-shot lead in Aramco Saudi Ladies International

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: In-form Indian star Aditi Ashok produced a scintillating six-under 66 in the second round of the $5 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International, presented by Public Investment Fund, to take a two-shot lead over world No. 1 Lydia Ko and American dark horse Lilia Vu at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.

Ashok, who won the season-opening Magical Kenya Ladies Open at Vipingo Ridge just two weeks ago, was just one shot behind overnight leaders Ko and Pajaree Anannarukarn after a bogey-free 65, and she continued her incredible vein of form going out in the afternoon on day two.

Teeing off on 10, she made a fabulous start with four birdies in her opening five holes, before birdying her seventh and eagling her ninth, the par-five 18th, for a tournament record of 29.

Bogeys on the turn and hole six threatened briefly to derail her charge, but a birdie on nine, her 18th, ensured a healthy two-shot lead over Ko (69) and Vu, who carded a bogey-free six-under 66.

Ashok, on 13 under at the halfway stage, said: “It was just one of those days where whenever I stepped to the ball I just knew the ball was going in.

“It was just one of those days where everything works in your favor; the front nine was definitely like that.”

On her third-round strategy, the 24-year-old said: “I’m just going to try and focus on doing the same stuff I’ve done.

“I’ve played the par fives pretty good. The rest of the time I’ve just hit fairways and greens, got myself the birdie putts.

“Sometimes I hit a good putt and it goes in, but it’s important to have the birdie putts all day.”

Vu credited the conditions for helping her stay focused and produce a superb 66 in the wind.

She said: “I think the wind helped because it helps you play one shot at a time. I think today the wind is a little different from yesterday so we had to adjust to that, but just playing one shot at a time.”

Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland is just a shot further back on 10 under after producing a six-under 66 of her own, a week after making her full debut on the Ladies European Tour.

The 25-year-old, who represented her country at the 2020 Olympics, credited the recent help of former US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin for her good form.

She said: “It’s been really fun. My game was solid and today was definitely challenging in the back nine with the wind, but I just stayed very present.

“I’m just having a lot of fun — grinded out there. I think I just enjoyed a little bit lowering my expectations and just trying my best in the conditions.

“I think I’ve been pretty solid tee to green, but my iron play has been very solid for quite a few months now, and I feel like it’s definitely paying off, the work in the off-season.

“Last week, I found a little something in my putting that makes the roll a little bit better, switching grips. I think that was a fun part of playing alongside the Tournament of Champions — I got pointers from Corey Pavin, and his tip helped me.

“I think I’m getting better speed control, not making as many mistakes on the green as I could have before.”

Mexico’s Gaby Lopez and Emily Kristine Pedersen are a shot back in joint fifth on nine under, one ahead of last year’s joint runner-up Johanna Gustavsson and Cara Gainer of England, who both produced five-under rounds of 67.

Sweden’s Gustavsson is happy with her situation going into the third round. She said: “I played very solid. Yesterday I think I played even better actually. It was very windy yesterday, and I’ve putted very good both days, which obviously helps.

“It’s good to be back. I like it here, obviously. Let’s see what the weekend brings.”

Talking about her performance in 2022, when she finished five shots off champion Georgia Hall of England, Gustavsson said: “It was the biggest thing I’ve done so far in my career at that point.

“I was very proud of myself, how I handled the weekend, especially the last day. Obviously it set me up quite nicely for the year, and, yes, I have good memories.”

Englishwoman Gainer enjoyed the more benign conditions after going out in the morning. She said: “I really enjoyed it. I played really well yesterday considering the conditions. We had sort of the gusting 25, 30 mph winds pretty much the whole round because we were off last.

“So it was really tough yesterday. I’m glad I got a good round to sort of begin the tournament, and then, yes, backed it up really nicely today. I didn’t quite strike it as good as yesterday, but I putted really well. That’s golf, isn’t it?

“I knew I was playing well this week and I like to step up at these big events. It’s just amazing to be playing with such incredible players, a really world-class field in other than a major. I’m really pleased after two days.”

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