Marina Alex entered Saturday’s second round in a four-way tie for the lead, but the Wayne, N.J. native fired her second consecutive 4-under 68 to take the solo lead heading into tomorrow’s final round of the Four Winds Invitational.
Despite hitting the ball worst on Saturday, Alex was still able to card a bogey-free round that included four birdies at Blackthorn Golf Course.
“I probably hit it a little bit worse than yesterday, not a whole lot but a little bit,” said Alex. “I made some really good up-and-downs early in my round to keep me at even-par which was really good. Then I just stayed patient and hoped my ball striking would come around a little bit and it did.”
The Vanderbilt University grad was forced to scramble early in her round but managed to remain at even-par for the day until birdies at the par-3 seventh and par-5 ninth.
“I had a really nice birdie on the seventh hole, the short par-3,” said Alex. “I hit a good little 8-iron in there and made that putt. I made a nice up-and-down on eight and I went for the green in two on nine and had a really good two-putt for birdie so that kind of calmed me down.”
Things seemed to begin to click for Alex as she began striking the ball better allowing her to birdie the par-3 12th and par-5 16th.
“On the back-nine I just hit it a little bit better and took advantage of the par-5 on 16,” said Alex. I made a birdie there and made another birdie on the par-3 12th. I hit a nice iron in there to about 10-feet and made that.”
This season, Alex has recorded two top-10 finishes and currently stands No. 17 on the Volvik Race for the Card standings. A current rookie on the LPGA Tour, Alex is looking to improve on a career-best tied for third finish at the 2012 Challenge at Musket Ridge.
If Alex wants to make her first trip to the winner’s circle on Sunday, she will have to fight off a group of players chasing her at 6-under-par that include Calle Nielson, Mitsuki Katahira, Marissa Steen, and Cydney Clanton.
Nielson topped the tournament record, which was previously broken by Jessi Gebhardt who carded a 9-under 63, with a 5-under 67 that included seven birdies and two bogeys. The University of Virginia alum only needed 29 putts on Saturday but was forced to wait until the sixth hole to card her first par.
“I’m rolling it really, really well,” said Nielson. “I birdied the first three holes today. The girls in my group looked at me and said okay, you know what the course record is, and I kind of chuckled. I bogeyed my next hole, I didn’t have a par until my sixth hole today so I went birdie, birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie, then par.”
If Nielson wants to top a career-best tied for fourth finish which came at the 2012 Ladies Titan Tire Challenge, the Nashville, Tenn. native knows she needs to keep her eyes off the leaderboards.
“I look there and then I press,” said Nielson of watching the leaderboard. “Today I just kept my head down and looked at the shot that I was getting ready to hit. I looked on 18 when I was coming up but I’ll have to do it tomorrow too. I really tried not to look at my walking scorer and I just tried to play. I finally talked to him on 16 and told him that I hadn’t introduced myself. It was a good day.”
Also looking to secure her first Symetra Tour victory is Clanton who shot her second consecutive 3-under-par 69 round.
The Auburn University grad recorded five birdies and two bogeys and relied heavily on her ball striking during a day where her flat stick went a bit cold.
“I hit the ball really well today,” said Clanton. “I hit the ball well yesterday, I didn’t make as many putts today as I did yesterday but I kept giving myself opportunities so that’s kind of what you have to do out here. Making the turn I hit it on the first five holes within 12-feet or so. I had some good opportunities, hit some good putts just didn’t drop in for me.”
Mitsuki Katahira is also in the hunt for her first Symetra Tour victory after carding six birdies and three bogeys en route to a 3-under-par 69.
The Tokyo, Japan native had a bit of a rollercoaster round on Saturday but was able to keep it together even after having two three-putts.
“I started pretty well on the front-nine,” said Katahira. “On the back-nine I had two three-putts and it was kind of up-and-down but I got two birdies on the last few holes so I’m happy.”
Steen is looking to continue her momentum from last week as she is coming off a tied for third finish at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic Presented by Tate & Lyle and the Decatur Parks District. The University of Memphis alum carded four birdies and one bogey to record her second straight 3-under 69.
“I am hitting the ball well and I made some good putts today,” said Steen. “I had 31 putts today and hit 15 greens so it was good. I had one bogey. I hit a really good shot and it flew the green. I can’t figure it out because I know it was the right club.”
Tomorrow’s final round is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. off the first tee.