AUGUSTA, Ga. — Already the best amateur in women’s golf, Rose Zhang set another record Thursday to take a five-shot lead in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, leaving her one round away at the home of the Masters from another big title.
Zhang opened with a 6-under 66 at Champions Retreat to set the tournament record. She went one lower Thursday with a 7-under 65 — despite making her only bogey of the tournament — and finished with a long chip to 3 feet for birdie.
“This is not a course where I can see a bogey-free 66. And what did she shoot today, 65? That doesn’t even enter my brain,” said Megha Ganne, who plays with Zhang at Stanford.
Zhang made it look that easy, even with one of the more difficult shots. She pulled her drive on the par-5 ninth into the rough, the ball well above her feet. Instead of playing it safe, she hit 3-wood from 237 yards and aimed well right of the green toward a TV tower.
It trundled onto the green to 30 feet, and she made the eagle putt.
“All I was thinking was don’t hook it so far it goes into the trees,” she said with a laugh. “I was also thinking of not topping it.”
She was at 13-under 131.
Andrea Lignell of Sweden, a senior at Ole Miss, had a 69 and was five shots behind. Jenny Bae, a fifth-year senior at Georgia, had a 68 and was another shot behind at 137.
No one else was within fewer than 10 shots of Zhang, a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford and the reigning NCAA champion.
Zhang has a practice round Friday at Augusta National with the rest of the 72-player field, and then 31 players who made the cut at 2-over 146 will play the final round at the home of the Masters, which starts next week.
For so many, a chance to play at Augusta National is a treat. To compete there is even better. This is old hat for Zhang. She has made it to the final round of the ANWA all four years it has been played, starting when she was 15 and in high school.
She shared the lead going to Augusta National two years ago, only to take a triple bogey on the par-5 13th to end her chances. Now she leads by five and is playing her best golf.
“From my past experience [with a big lead], it’s very important to know you have a whole field chasing you and anything can happen,” Zhang said. “Every hole, every score matters. I’m just going to play as hard as I can.”
The final round will include another 15-year-old in Gianna Clemente, who played her first U.S. Women’s Amateur at age 11 and last year made it through Monday qualifying for three consecutive LPGA Tour events.
Clemente showed her mettle Thursday. After opening with a 74 that left her outside the cut, she shot 32 on her second nine for a 69. That included a 50-foot birdie on No. 2.
She has been in awe of Zhang ever since they played a practice round at a junior tournament. She said Zhang did most of the talking. “She asked a few questions and I probably stuttered a few things,” Clemente said.
Anna Davis, the defending champion, never recovered from a four-shot penalty she was assessed on her opening hole Wednesday for lifting and cleaning her golf ball when it wasn’t in the fairway. She had a 9 and shot 76. Davis had a pair of bogeys on par 5s and missed the cut by two shots.
Also making the cut were Amari Avery, the No. 9 player in the women’s amateur ranking, with birdies on her last two holes. The most unlikely to advance was Ting-Hsuan Huang of Taiwan. She opened with a 79 and bounced back with a 66 to make it to the final round with two shots to spare.