CLIFTON, N.J. — Two-time LPGA Tour player of the year Jin Young Ko shot her second straight 4-under 68 on Friday in the Founders Cup and shared the halfway lead with 37-year-old non-winner Sarah Kemp.
Kemp, whose best finish on tour is a tie for second in 2019, had a one-stroke lead with three holes to play but pulled her drive on the par 4 16th at Upper Montclair Country Club. The Australian was short of the elevated green on her second shot and missed a long par putt after a chip from a tough stance. She had a 65 to match Ko at 8-under 136.
“I think this is going to be the week, every week,” Kemp said, “But it’s just such a small percent that win, right? Everyone’s win percentage is real small. I think if I keep doing what I’m doing now maybe I’ll get close soon.”
Kemp’s best finish this year in six events — including a team event — was a tie for 13th in the JM Eagle LA Championship.
Defending champion Minjee Lee (69), South Korean rookie Hae Ran Ryu (70) and Aditi Ashok (68) of India, were a shot behind the leaders and one ahead of American Cheyenne Knights (70).
Nasa Hataoka, Peiyun Chien, Hye-Jin Choi, Albane Valenzuela, Stephanie Kyriacou and Angel Yin were in a group three shots behind the leaders in the event that honors the LPGA Tour’s 13 founders.
Ko had a bogey-free round that included four birdies on her final 10 holes, including a second straight 3 at No. 18. The world’s No. 3 ranked woman seemed destined to hold the outright lead until Kemp, playing in a late afternoon threesome, made eight birdies in 15 holes to take the lead, only to slip slightly.
Ko has changed her pre-round preparation this week. She is showing up an hour before her round instead of two because she had felt tired.
“It was awesome,” Ko said. “I had a great round today, also yesterday, too. I tried to make a bogey-free round, and I made it.”
Ko, who won her second straight HSBC Women’s World Championship in March, also won this event in 2019 and 2021, coinciding with her player of the year awards.
Lee, who shot a second-round 63 last year move into the lead, hasn’t been thinking about defending her title.
“I just wanted to have two good rounds to start the week, and I’m in a good position for the weekend,” she said.
Ashok, who was the first player from India to join the tour in 2017 and remains the only one, had six birdies and two bogeys.
Ryu bogeyed the final three holes on the back nine and then kick started her round with an eagle at the par 5 No. 2.
Sei Young Kim, who shot a bogey-free 66 on Thursday to take the lead, had five bogeys and a birdie in rocketing to 76 on Friday. The South Korean was six shots behind in dampening her hopes for her first win since 2020.
Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis, who won this event in 2013, was at 4 under, a shot ahead of Brittany Lincicome and Atthaya Thitikul. Lexi Thompson was at 1 under, while Nelly Korda shot a 74 and was at 2 over, one over the cut line.