The 2021 AIG Women’s Open has reached the halfway stage and the leaderboard could hardly be more delicately poised.
Just two shots separate the top 11 players, four of whom have tasted major success before, while there is no shortage of high-class operators ready to make their move from further back.
Ahead of what looks set to be a gripping weekend at Carnoustie, here’s how the contenders are shaping up – and how they’ve got into this position.
THE MAJOR WINNERS
Sharing the overnight lead on -7 is Georgia Hall, who has made no secret of the fact this is the trophy she craves above all others.
She has tasted success once before, of course, having finished two shots clear of the chasing pack at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2018, and missed the Olympics to maximise her chances of success this time around.
One double bogey at the 15th on Friday aside, the 25-year-old has been remarkably consistent throughout the opening two days.
A second-round 69 followed the first day 68 and as a player comfortable if the wind gets up, Hall won’t be among those anxiously checking the forecast.
The Englishwoman isn’t the only player with major-winning experience to be among the leading lights.
Sei Young Kim, who lifted the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last year, is just a shot further back but may feel she should be even better placed given her position at the turn on Friday.
Four front-nine birdies took the South Korean to -9 but a wobble down the back nine meant she was unable to build on a potentially dominant position.
But Kim, who tied for fourth when Hall was successful three years ago, will be confident of mounting a real challenge over the final two days.
The group on -5 contains two major champions in Yuka Saso, who beat Nata Hasaoka in a play-off to win the US Women’s Open in June, and Lexi Thompson.
The latter is looking to claim her first major since the 2014 ANA Inspiration and is benefiting from the local knowledge of caddy Paul Drummond, who has been on the bag throughout the week.
Thompson held a share of the lead on Friday before two bogeys in her final five holes and will be eager to make her way back to the summit.
The remaining six players in the top 10 are hoping to break their major ducks and of those, Mina Harigae is currently best placed.
The American shares the overnight lead with Hall after a stellar second-round 67 which included two birdies in her final three holes, giving her valuable momentum heading into Saturday.
The 31-year-old is yet to finish in the top 10 of a major – her best AIG Women’s Open finish is T28 in 2018 – and she may not get many better chances to do so than this.
Lizette Salas has twice been the bridesmaid but never the bride in a major, with one of her near-misses coming at Woburn in 2019 when she finished a stroke adrift of Hinako Shibuno.
One shot is the deficit she faces going into the weekend after an excellent bogey-free back nine on Friday which featured a birdie at the last.
Nanna Koerstz Madsen, who tied for third at the ANA Inspiration earlier this year, flew up the standings with four consecutive birdies between holes five and eight and ended up signing for a 69 to ensure she will start the weekend on -5.
Yealimi Noh will do likewise as she looks for her maiden major at the age of 20 while Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Thai star Moriya Jutanugarn forced their way into contention by shooting fine 67s on day two.
Jutanugarn is looking to join her sister as a major winner, Ariya having won the AIG Women’s Open at Woburn in 2016 and the US Women’s Open two years later.
Another Thai player made a late charge into the group at five under on Friday, Wichanee Meechai birdieing the last two holes in a bogey-free 68. Meechai has never previously finished in the top 10 at a major, but then again neither had Sophia Popov prior to her triumph at Royal Troon last year.
WAITING IN THE WINGS
Lurking in the shadows at -4 are a selection of major winners who will not go down without a fight.
Among them are two players who have tasted success this year, Evian Championship winner Minjee Lee and KPMG Women’s PGA champion Nelly Korda, who described her one-over-par round of 73 on day two as ‘a little punch of reality’.
2019 AIG Women’s Open Champion Shibuno is also on -4 along with Brooke Henderson, who became the youngest ever KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner when she lifted the trophy aged 18 in 2016.
Madelene Sagstrom and Su Oh, each looking for their first major triumph, are also three shots adrift of the leaders.