Michelle Wie West tumbled out of the ANA Inspiration on a hot, breezy Friday afternoon in the desert. Patty Tavatanakit stayed up top with eight major champions close behind.
Playing for the second straight week after a 21-month break, Wie West followed an opening 2-under 70 with a birdie-less 79 to miss the cut at Mission Hills in the first major championship of the year.
“Wasn’t a good day,” Wie West said. “Got a little mucky from the first hole. Was right up against a tree. ... I feel like I’ve had some really good moments and some really bad moments. Definitely a lot of positives to take from and definitely have my work cut out for me.”
The long-hitting Tavatanakit took the lead on Thursday with an opening 66 and shot a 69 on Friday in 97-degree afternoon heat to reach 9 under, a stroke ahead of Shanshan Feng. International players held the first 19 positions on leaderboard.
“I didn’t want to take it the way that like, ‘Oh, I’m leading a major championship,’” Tavatanakit said. “I just wanted to look at it as it’s another round, it’s another tournament, even though it’s a big tournament.”
Tavatanakit holed out from 115 yards for eagle on the par-4 15th on her first nine, with the ball flying into the hole.
“I thought it was just a good shot,” Tavatanakit said. “I thought it hit the pin and went somewhere else. No one clapped, there are no fans. We couldn’t figure it out. It was so bright we all couldn’t see. I walked up and looked in the hole and I was like, ‘Oh, it went in.’”
The 21-year-old former UCLA player from Thailand missed the cut last week in Carlsbad in the Kia Classic with rounds of 71 and 79. She tied for fifth in February in the Gainbridge LPGA for her best LPGA Tour finish.
“Just keep doing what I’m doing, focusing on what’s important, what I can control out there,” Tavatanakit said. “There are going to be a lot of challenges on the weekend and I’m ready to face it. It’s not going to be easy. If I were going to win it, it’s going to be tough.”
Wie West bogeyed the first three par 5s — the lowlight a 100-yard drive into a left-side tree on No. 9. With only mask-less father B. J. following her at times with the tournament being played without spectators for the second time in seven months, she opened with bogeys on Nos. 1-3. On Thursday, she made long birdie putts on each of them to start her back nine.
The 31-year-old Wie West returned to competition in Carlsbad, missing the cut with rounds of 81 and 74. She was playing for the first time since marrying Jonnie West, the son of basketball great Jerry West, in August 2019 and giving birth to daughter Makenna in June.
“Making the right decision takes practice, too,” Wie West said. “That’s something that is hard to practice when you aren’t playing, and that’s probably where the rust really showed.”
Feng also is coming off a long layoff after sitting out 16 months because of the coronavirus pandemic and a recent visa delay. The Chinese star birdied the final two holes for a 69. “Result-wise it doesn’t really matter because I’m very happy about what I’m doing as the first tournament coming back,” Feng said.
Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand was third at 7 under after a 69.
“Just have to be a lot of patient out there,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m not a long hitter, so I just have to take what I can and just trying to play smart.”
Two-time major champion Anna Nordqvist and European Solheim Cup team-mate Charley Hull were 6 under. Nordqvist birdied two of the last three holes. “Having won two before, those are the ones that motivate me to go practice every day,” the 33-year-old Swede said. “If you got a little bit of a taste of it, like it’s just such an incredible feeling.”
Hull birdied three par 5s.
“I have great memories here,” the Englishwoman said. “I first played in this event I think when I was 15 years old as an amateur and my dad was here with me.”
Top-ranked Jin Young Ko, the 2019 winner who was unable to play the event last year because of travel restrictions, shot a 70 to join defending champion Mirim Lee (70) and fellow major champions Inbee Park (69), Lydia Ko (69), Sophia Popov (69) and Georgia Hall (70) at 5 under.
Park, the 2013 champion who won at Carlsbad in her first start of the year, was weary of the 100-degree heat expected on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s just the heat that we just got to watch out for,” Park said. “The course is going to play firm and fast, which is a good thing, and obviously you just going to have a lot of energy to play in this heat.”
Nelly Korda (70), Austin Ernst (68), Jennifer Kupcho (72), Ally Ewing (70) and Megan Khang (73) topped the U.S. players at 3 under. Lexi Thompson (72) was 2 under.