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Shibuno pounces, Minjee falters in LPGA

Three years after winning her lone LPGA major championship, Hinako Shibuno is in position to add another.

Playing in the morning, the Japanese star shot a six-under 66 to seize the initiative midway through The Chevron Championship to lead by one from Jennifer Kupcho (70), defending champion Patty Tavatanakit (69) and Annie Park (67).

Joint overnight leader Minjee Lee, who teed off in the afternoon, had a 73 to be in a seven-way tie for ninth, four behind Shibuno at Mission Hills Country Club.

“It was a hard course for me. I couldn’t even imagine I could play here,” the 23-year-old from Japan said through a translator Friday.

Shibuno opened with a tap-in birdie on the par-4 first and had another on the par-4 10th.

“That makes it easier to play golf,” she said.

The 2019 Women’s British Open champion chipped in on the par-4 13th for the last of her seven birdies, against a lone bogey in warm and sunny morning conditions. She’s sticking with the routine that has worked so far.

“I’m going to do just the same thing,” Shibuno said. “I’m going to eat and I’m going to sleep.”

Tavatanakit closed with birdies on the par-3 17th and par-5 18th.

“I feel like I left a lot out there,” Tavatanakit said. “But at the same time, that’s just golf. There is no way you’re going to have a perfect day with no mistakes.

“I think 17 was definitely a bonus with that pin position. I think it kind of got my momentum going, knowing 18 was an up tee, so I knew I had a chance to get another birdie.”

Park played by herself the first two rounds with the players grouped in twosomes and an odd number in the field.

“Playing by myself was kind of weird yesterday, but today I kind of got used to it,” Park said. “I think when I made the turn and started waiting on players in the group in front of me, kind of just started to feel like normal golf.”

Kupcho birdied two of the last three holes after parring the first 15.

“I wouldn’t say I stayed very patient,” Kupcho said. “I definitely got a little angry.”

Top-ranked Jin Young Ko, the 2019 winner, followed an opening 74 with a 68 to get to three under.

Season points leader Danielle Kang birdied five of the first 12, then dropped four strokes on the final five with bogeys on 14 and 17 and a double bogey on 18. She was even par after a 71.

Australia’s Hannah Green shot par to go with her opening-round 70 to be seven off the pace.

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