Bianca Pagdanganan’s power was in full display again Friday as she moved in strong contention for the LPGA Drive On Championship in Greensboro, Georgia.
Averaging 295 yards off the tee, the 22-year-old rookie birdied all the par-5 holes to complete a five-under 67 and nine-under 135 card.
It was the Filipina’s strongest 36-hole performance in her pro career, placing her just one shot behind solo leader American Ally McDonald and tied with world No. 5 Danielle Kang.
Pagdanganan missed only three fairways and three greens in regulation.
She birdied three of the first six holes, took her only bogey at the par-3 eighth, then birdied the 11th and par-5 12th and closed with another birdie.
“I feel pretty good about my round,” she said. “I guess off the tee I wasn’t that confident, but my iron shots definitely saved me today.”
Pagdanganan said she will stick to the game plan.
“And not force anything to happen,” said the Southeast Asian champion who opted for her three-wood in some holes.
She could have a share of the lead if not for her three-putt bogey.
“I pulled my tee shot to the back left and had a 65-foot putt, then I missed a six-footer for par,” she recalled.
Meanwhile, McDonald, chasing her first LPGA title, reeled off five consecutive birdies to grab the one-stroke lead.
McDonald, who turns 28 on Sunday, fired a four-under-par 68 to stand on 10-under 134 after 36 holes at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
That was good enough for a one-stroke lead Kang and Pagdanganan with Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn another shot adrift.
“Feel really good,” McDonald said. “I put myself in a great position to hit some really good shots and it was really solid.”
The tournament was created to fill in a gap between US events after the LPGA’s usual Asian swing was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
While no spectators were allowed on the course due to Covid-19 safety issues, a lakeside back nine allowed viewers aboard more than 20 boats to watch the action.
World number 62 McDonald’s best LPGA results have been a pair of third-place finishes, most recently at last year’s ShopRite Classic.
“It’s really easy as a person who has never won to get ahead of yourself,” McDonald said. “We all really, really want to win. That’s why we do this, that’s why we compete, to put ourself in contention as much as we can.
“The next two days I’m just going to try to execute my game plan, stick to one shot at a time. If I find myself getting ahead, I need to regroup, back off, and be right in the moment, be present, and try to execute the shot I have.”
That’s even tougher with her parents at the resort, bringing a birthday cake to celebrate Sunday that would taste sweeter after a breakthrough victory.
“It would be pretty special. It would be a great birthday present,” McDonald said.
McDonald, who started on the back nine, birdied the par-4 11th then ran off five birdies in a row starting at the par-3 17th.
After reaching 12-under with six holes remaining, McDonald suffered bogeys at the par-4 fifth and par-5 sixth before three pars to reach the clubhouse.
Kang, who won the LPGA’s first two Covid-19 return events in August, got up and down for birdie at 18 to shoot 70.
“I’m rolling it well,” Kang said.
American Jennifer Song, who shared the 18-hole lead with Kang on 65, stumbled back with a 75 on Friday.