Torres overcomes shaky start to share Evian lead

Maria Torres is currently tied for the Evian Championship lead. (Reuters pic)

ÉVIAN-LES-BAINS: Maria Torres overcame a shaky start in the second round to emerge as one of four joint halfway leaders in the final major of the season, the Evian Championship, on Friday.

The first golfer from Puerto Rico to play on the US LPGA Tour and the first to compete in a women’s major, Torres couldn’t stop smiling after a 69 despite a disheartening two-bogey opening.

The 23-year-old was joined at the top by South Korea’s Lee Mi-hyang and two Americans, Amy Olson, who is still awaiting her first win after five years as a professional, and Mo Martin, the 2014 Women’s British Open champion.

Olson shot 65, while Martin and Lee both had 66 to make it into a tie at the top on eight-under-par 134.

The quartet led by one from Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, who added a 70 to her opening 65. The round of the day was a 64 from Angela Stanford, who was in the next group on six under.

Setting out in the rain and starting at the tenth, rookie Torres dropped shots on her two opening holes, but a three at the par four 12th settled the nerves, and more birdies followed at the 14th, 16th, and seventh.

“It wasn’t the best start,” she admitted. “But then I thought ‘OK. We can handle this and there are still 16 holes to play’ and I got on a roll again with the first birdie.”

“It is so awesome just to be here and I keep learning every day. Opportunity – that’s the word to sum up my position going into the weekend.”

Torres, a bubbly character, was a little girl keen on horses, but a golf range close to her home in San Juan attracted her attention. She went along and soon began to dream of becoming a professional..

“I started playing when I was about seven and, from then on, I gave up riding and always wanted to become a golfer,” she added.

She earned her place on the LPGA Tour via a play-off at final qualifying school last year and had her first top ten at the recent Canadian Open.

This is just her second major – she missed the cut at the LPGA Championship in June.

Olson had her best finish of the season in the opening major, a tie for ninth at the ANA Inspiration in March.

“I love the majors,” said Olson, whose brother Nathan was her caddie.

“I love it when the courses are tough and par is a great score. Today I putted really well.”

The 26-year-old saved her most important putt for the 18th – holing a five-metre putt for par and a share of the lead.

“That was huge,” she admitted. “I had a horrible lie for my chip and wan’t expecting it to go in.”

Lee, who started at the tenth, had an even better finish, making eagle at the long ninth, while Martin also ended her round in style, holing a long putt for birdie at the same hole.

Anna Nordqvist, the defending champion, had a 70 for one under par, but world number one Park Sung-hyun couldn’t recover from her opening 77 and missed the cut by three shots after a 71.