PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Bailey Tardy picked a good time and a beautiful location to play her best golf.
Tardy made eagle on the par-5 sixth hole at Pebble Beach for the second straight day as part of a torrid start to her second round Friday in the U.S. Women’s Open, and she held steady the rest of the way for a 4-under 68 and a 2-shot lead.
Tardy hasn’t finished in the top 20 in her rookie year on the LPGA Tour. Now she has the 36-hole lead at the biggest event in women’s golf. And there was more to her good timing. Tardy was in the first group out, before the wind got strong enough to send scores soaring.
Tardy was at 7-under 137, one of only six players who remain under par going into the weekend, with even stronger wind in the forecast. Of those six, only Nasa Hataoka faced the flag-snapping wind of the afternoon. Hataoka shot 74.
Rose Zhang was over the cut line when she made two early bogeys in the morning. She rallied for a 71 to easily make the weekend. And when the second round ended, Zhang was in a tie for 10th at 1-over 145.
At least she’s still playing.
Jin Young Ko, the No. 1 player in women’s golf, missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and missed the cut. So did Lilia Vu, who won the first LPGA major of the year and didn’t break 79 in her two days at Pebble Beach.
Two others who missed the cut were Michelle Wie West and Annika Sorenstam, although that wasn’t a surprise. This was their final U.S. Women’s Open, and they paused to hug each other before reaching the 18th green.
Both shot 79, Sorenstam finishing with a tee shot onto the rocks left of the 18th fairway — leading to a brief dispute about where to take her drop — and a double bogey.
“It’s a little bittersweet to finish that way, but the memories are more than the shots,” said Sorenstam, who accepted an invitation given the historic nature of the U.S. Women’s Open being held at Pebble Beach for the first time. She retired after the 2008 season.
Wie West always wanted her daughter to see her play, and she cradled 3-year-old Makenna when it was over.
“It was really an emotional day, all the way to the end,” Wie West said. “It was such a strange feeling. And now that it’s over, it’s an even stranger feeling.”
Now they turn over the stage to an eclectic mix of players, most looking for their first major, some trying to simply win for the first time.
Tardy has made only four cuts this year, her best finish a tie for 23rd in Hawaii. Her only professional victory was two years ago on the LPGA’s developmental tour. She is No. 455 in the world ranking.
And she was not the least bit surprised when she walked off the 18th green leading Allisen Corpuz (70) and Hyo Joo Kim (71) by 2 shots.
“I’ve always believed in myself to win any tournament that I enter,” said Tardy, who played in college at Georgia. “I’m good enough to be here, and I’ve been on the LPGA, so I feel like I definitely have the game to hang with the best in the world.”
The best in the world have some work to do.
Second-ranked Nelly Korda shot 73 and made the cut with one shot to spare, leaving her 12 shots behind. Lydia Ko at No. 3 in the world was at 3-over 147 while playing one hole — the par-3 fifth — in 5 over par for two days.
“Apart from one hole, I played really solid,” Ko said.
Tardy has been a bit of a hard-luck case getting to the LPGA Tour, once missing out on a card by $343 on what is now the Epson Tour and twice more having close calls.
The belief never wavered, especially as far as she hits it. Her approach up the steep hill to the sixth green settled 4 feet away — she holed a 15-foot eagle putt on Thursday.
“I feel like I’ve had really good ballstriking days and then terrible putting days, and then I’ll have a great putting day but terrible ballstriking day,” Tardy said. “So it’s finally coming together and meshing well, and it just happens at the right time.”
She played Pebble Beach last year for fun — who wouldn’t? — and certainly knows the secret to scoring on days like these when the wind is more of a rumor. It began to pick up in the middle of her round, but she took advantage on the opening seven holes. That’s where to score.
Tardy had four birdies along with her eagle, dropped her only shot from a bunker in front of the par-3 fifth green and even missed a 6-foot birdie attempt at No. 8. Her only mistake on the back nine was a long three-putt on the par-5 14th.
Leona Maguire of Ireland was primed to join her. She birdied her last two holes on the back nine for a 34 and had the easier front nine to play. Instead, Maguire bogeyed four of the next five holes by missing the greens, and she capped off a forgettable finish with a three-putt from 25 feet for a 40.
She was 6 shots behind at 143 but very much in the game.
“Under par around here you always know you’re going to be in good shape,” she said. “Just made a few bad swings and kind of cost me, that early stretch on the front nine.”
Zhang was 8 shots behind but had only 10 players ahead of her with 36 holes to play.
“I’ve been in this position before where you have to chase and it’s nothing new to me,” she said. “I’ll just be trying to do the same thing. Try to hit as many fairways and greens, because that will allow you to gain more birdie opportunities. That’s all I can do.”