On a breezy South Arkansas afternoon, Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago, Spain) continued to show why she is one of the top players on the Epson Tour. Perched at No. 5 in the Race for the Card, Fernandez Cano put together another extraordinary ball-striking day at Mystic Creek Golf Club, firing a 2-under round of 70 to take a two-shot lead into the final 18 of the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout.
“I hit 17 greens again for the second day in a row,” said Fernandez Cano, who hopes to maintain her LPGA Tour status after finishing third in the 2020 Race. “I had three three-putts today but that’s going to happen on these greens. Still, I had a couple of birdies and an eagle on 18, which was my ninth hole. So, that got me going on my back nine.”
The eagle was emblematic of Fernandez Cano’s game. She bombed a tee shot 292 yards on the par-5 hole, leaving her with only a 7-iron to the middle hole location. “Yeah, I left it about 12 feet under the hole and rolled that in,” she said with a smile.
Alone in second at 4-under par is 19-year-old Yaeeun Hong (Seoul, South Korea). The young sensation has been in contention several times this year, already posting four top-10 finishes in 2021. She also had a runner-up finish in the season opener in 2020, which was her only start of the season because of COVID-19.
“I met with my coach recently during an off week and now I feel as though I’m swinging really well,” Hong said. “I heard this course was really hard and my shots needed to be really solid. But I hit the ball really straight, so I felt as though I had a chance to do well here.
“I really like fast greens and these greens have a lot of movement in them, but they are also pretty fast. So, I’m comfortable with that. Then again, the best part of my game is my irons. If I have a 7- to 9-iron shot, I feel confident that I can get it close.
Hong also feels as though her confidence has grown throughout the year. “This is my first full year playing on the Tour and there have been a few times that I could win but I didn’t play my game,” she said. “I was concentrating on the leaderboard and I got out of my rhythm instead of ignoring everybody else. But tomorrow I will be patient. This course is really hard. Several bogeys will come out. But that’s okay. I will be patient and see what happens.”
Coastal Carolina alumna Marlene Krolboll Hansen (Copenhagen, Denmark) sits alone in third at 3-under par after rounds of 70 and 71. “I hit a lot of greens and putted pretty well,” Kroboll Hansen said. “This is the kind of course where you’re going to make bogeys and you’re going to make a double. I just finished (the Saturday round) with a triple (bogey) so that’s going to happen. I remember looking (at this event) two years ago and seeing that the cut was like 8-over par. So, I came in with the attitude that if you can just hit it somewhere on these greens and two putt, eventually one or two are going to drop. And then when you miss a green, just try to make nothing higher than a bogey and you’re golden. You have to be disciplined enough to say, ‘I’m going to play out to this tree that is 20 yards right in the hopes that it’s turn back and I’ll have a (30-foot) putt that I can 2-putt.’ It’s such a weird thing because we’re programmed to want birdies. But even having short irons in your hand is no guarantee that we can stop it.”
Like a lot of players this week, the 26-year-old Dane, who makes her home now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, likes the kind of tough test Mystic River offers. “Even though it’s fun to have events where everyone is shooting 6 under per round, it’s just as fun to have this kind of event where 1 or 2 under every day is a good score,” Kroboll Hansen said. “You feel like 3 under is 8 under in places like this. And that’s a good thing.”