Mina Harigae arrived at Carnoustie looking to improve on an AIG Women’s Open best of T28 but a stunning second round means she can now set her sights higher.
The American has missed the cut in four of her seven majors on UK soil but was in the groove from the outset on Friday, picking up three birdies in her first six holes to build on her overnight -2.
A couple of bumps in the road arrived either side of the turn, with bogeys at eight and 10, but four more birdies saw the 31-year-old join Georgia Hall in the clubhouse on -7.
She saved arguably the best until last, again making light of the 18th's fearsome reputation to birdie the hole for the second successive day.
“I think 18 is a highlight for me,” she said. “It's such a hard hole.
“I had a 4-hybrid and you have to hit really good shots. I think it's a great birdie on that tough hole.
“A couple times [today] I got lucky with the bounces, skirting a couple bunkers. But overall I putted really well today so I think that contributed to my really good back nine as well.”
Harigae has a consistent if modest major record and is yet to record a top-10 finish at one of the big five.
That could all change over the weekend at Carnoustie if the Monterey-born ace keeps this form up and she feels these statement rounds are testament to her improvement over the past year as she prepares for potentially trickier conditions at the business end.
“Yeah, I'm a much better golfer the last 12 months, I've been playing well,” she said.
“I just feel like I'm in a good place.
“It was definitely was a little softer out there and I thought it was a little breezier than when I played yesterday afternoon.
“So yeah, I didn't think it was easy conditions, but also I know it can be a lot tougher.”
Several of Harigae’s compatriots are also handily placed going into the weekend, with Lizette Salas just a shot further back after a second successive round of 69.
Salas, who finished runner-up to Hinako Shibuno at Woburn two years ago and also tied for second at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship earlier this year, hopes to go one better this time around.
“It's definitely special and thinking back to 2019, I had a really good finish,” she said.
“I finished sixth at St Andrews in 2013 and I feel good.
“I know what my body, my mind and my mental game can take. We are just trying to have some fun and finish on a good note this week.”
Sitting on -5 are Lexi Thompson and Yealimi Noh, both of whom were among several to gather momentum down the front nine before hitting stumbling blocks.
Thompson was in a four-way tie for the lead at -7 before bogeys at 14 and 16 but the 2014 ANA Inspiration champion remains right in the mix and is excited for what lies ahead.
“I'm really looking forward to the weekend,” she said. “This is just a very special place.
“This golf course is amazing and I knew that coming into the week, so I was really looking forward to it and hopefully we get some decent weather coming in Saturday and Sunday.
“There might be a little bit of rain but we'll see. I'm looking forward to going out there and have a good time like the last two days.
“It's key to take advantage of the few birdie holes out there because on the back nine, there are just a few par holes and you have to take it and run.”
Noh, who is making her second AIG Women’s Open appearance having tied for 32nd last year, impressed on her way to a three-under round of 69 and could have been sitting in an even more promising position were it not for a dropped shot on the last.
“I'm hitting a lot of greens which is very helpful out here,” she said.
“I'm a little disappointed on the last hole, three-putted off the green, missed a short one but I'm happy with the round overall.”