The final putt has dropped for the second round of play at the Four Winds Invitational, and the packed leaderboard is getting a little clearer. A calm morning led to some charges from players lower down on the leaderboard, shaking up the look at the top. A few players were able to separate themselves from the pack, with some past champions leading the way heading into the final day of play.
Gabriela Ruffels finds herself with the lead heading into the final round, a position she has been in twice this year already this season. The Aussie closed out both of her previous 36-hole leads with wins at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic and the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes. The bogey-free 65 (-7) in her second-round today was reminiscent of her play in Garden City, where she broke the Epson Tour all-time scoring record for a tournament.
“The experience of winning at any level is super important,” said Ruffels. “Having done it twice already this year, I feel like that experience can only help, and I can draw on those experiences. I just hope I can end up with the same result tomorrow.”
The seven-under round from Ruffels was the best round carded on Friday by two shots. Not only is the 23-year-old looking to pick up her third win of the season, but she is looking to do so in style. Ruffels has played her first 36 holes without making a bogey and will have the opportunity to finish the tournament without a blemish on her scorecard for the whole week.
“I kept my same gameplan of being aggressive, but today my putts were falling,” said Ruffels. “That’s golf, though, and it can happen like that. I am definitely happy with how it went today, and I just need to keep doing to same thing tomorrow.”
With a win, Ruffels would be the first player of the 2023 season to secure her LPGA Tour card for 2024. Ruffels has some experience and success playing on the LPGA Tour, receiving exemptions throughout her career, and qualifying for major championships. In 2023 alone, she’s made the cut in LPGA Tour events, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, U.S. Women’s Open and the Dana Open, where Ruffels ultimately finished T24, T33 and T23, respectively. A win this week at the Four Winds Invitational would be a well-deserved coronation for the Australian.
“The thought is definitely there,” said Ruffels. “I just need to control what I can control and just keep trying to improve. If it happens, great, but I just need to keep doing the same thing.”
Agathe Laisne will try to spoil the party for Ruffels during the final round. The four-under round for Laisne moved her to -7 for the tournament and two shots back of Ruffels. Laisne is also a champion on the Epson Tour this year, taking home the first trophy of the season at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic. The Frenchwomen currently sits at No. 5 on the Race for the Card, with a win making her the fourth player to crack the $100,000 mark.
“It was tough at the beginning of the round for me,” said Laisne. “I just tried to stay patient throughout the day. I had to chip and putt a lot because I wasn’t hitting a lot of greens, so that was tough. I knew my back nine was going to be easier, and I would have a lot of wedges into the greens. So, I was just looking forward to that and was able to take advantage.”
Becca Huffer will join the past champions in the final group heading into championship Saturday. Huffer, the Notre Dame Alumna, has the support of the community but had never played the course before heading back to South Bend. Huffer posted back-to-back sub-70 rounds (69-68) on her way to a tie for second at 7-under for the tournament. A win back on her old stomping grounds would mean a lot to Huffer, and she is feeding off the support of the local community, who have been following her all week.
“This week has just been super fun,” said Huffer. “The Notre Dame fans are out here watching me play so I am glad I am playing well for them. I started on the back nine today, so I was just trying to get through those holes and then attack the front nine. That was kind of what happened for me today, so I was pleased with my play today.”
Michelle Zhang (-6, T4) on her up and down first two rounds:
“I thought the course was playing pretty tough today, especially the back nine. I am really happy with how I finished because I’ve felt like every time, I have made a birdie recently, I would bogey right after. I am proud of where I am right now and am excited; I will have a chance to try and win tomorrow.”
Ssu-Chia Cheng (-5, T8) on closing out her impressive front nine with an eagle:
“Everything was just going really good on the front nine. The approaches and putting were really good, too, and I closed my nine out with an eagle. When I hit my approach shot, I thought it was good, but then I got up to the green, and there were only two golf balls on the green. My caddie checked the hole, and it was in there. So, I was just like, ‘Oh okay, that’s great!’”
Robyn Choi (-4, T13) on her five-under back nine:
“The front nine, I was putting it well, but just wasn’t hitting enough greens. Then when I got to my back nine, I had a lot of wedges coming in, and I was able to take those opportunities and just hit it a little bit closer. Then the putts just kept dropping., so yeah, it was a really good nine.”