Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Co-leaders conquer breezy conditions at Circling Raven Championship

Jillian Hollis eyes a putt during the second round of the Circling Raven Championship on Saturday near Worley, Id. Hollis shared a second-round lead with Jessica Welch, Robyn Choi and Hyo Joon Jang at 10-under-par.   (Courtesy Epson Tour)

WORLEY – Saturdays are known as moving day at golf tournaments and that was certainly the case at the Circling Raven Championship.

Blustery conditions sent a garbage can rolling near the first tee box. One player was seen chasing a runaway scorecard across a fairway.

Steady winds drove scores up and rearranged the leaderboard in the second round of the Epson Tour event, but they didn’t seem to bother four players who share first place. Jessica Welch, Robyn Choi, Hyo Joon Jang and Jillian Hollis are tied at the top at 10 under entering Sunday’s final round.

Welch fired the day’s low score with a 7-under 65. Choi and Hollis had the second-lowest scores with 66s. Jang’s 67 was equaled by just one other player.

“It was one of those days where you have to be nice to yourself because you’re going to have some good breaks and bad breaks,” Welch said. “You have to be patient and nice to yourself.”

Grace Kim (68) and Gabriela Ruffels (69) are one shot behind at 9 under. Of the four co-leaders who opened with 65s Friday, Polly Mack was the only one to break par (71) in round two. She’s at 8 under along with Valentina Haupt.

Former Idaho Vandals standout Sophie Hausmann is tied for 35th at 3 under.

The 29-year-old Welch, who played at Jacksonville (Florida) University, made two eagles and finished in style with a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 18, punctuated by a swinging fist pump. She holed out from 67 yards on the par-4 fifth and chipped in from 33 yards out on the par-5 10th (the nines are flipped for the tournament).

“I’ve never had two (eagles) in one day,” Welch said. “On the chip shot, I was looking at it and I thought, ‘If that doesn’t stop, it’s going to go in.’ It just fell right in. I was thinking (the putt on 18) was way short, but the second half of it was downhill and it was a double-breaker, which is always fun to read. I’m not going to call it luck, but it’s a good one to sleep on.”

Welch has missed the cut in nine of 12 tourneys this season, so sleeping with a share of the lead will be a new experience.

“There’s going to be some nerves,” Welch said. “It’s a good problem to have. This year has been a bit of a struggle, to put it bluntly, but I feel like the momentum is building and it’s all due to that good frame of mind I’ve tried to have.”

Choi, an Australian native who played at the University of Colorado, finished strongly with birdies on 14, 15 and 16. She was in ideal position on the par-5 14th, but topped a 3-wood on her second shot. She hit her approach from 150 yards to 10 feet and made the birdie putt.

“There were definitely a few holes that were pretty tough out there,” said Choi, who left school early and played on the LPGA Tour in 2019. “Most of the time I tried to play with the wind and not fight it. Overall, I’m just happy with what I shot in those conditions, to be honest.”

Choi posted four consecutive top-10 finishes in the middle of the season.

“I was up there and kind of contending, but I think this is my first time with a leading score,” she said.

Hollis, 25, teed off in the morning wave and made six birdies in the first 11 holes to reach 10 under.

Hollis, who played at the University of Georgia, won twice on the Epson Tour in 2019 and has considerable LPGA Tour experience. She shared 15th place at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational last month.

Jang, an Epson Tour rookie, eagled the par-5 eighth and birdied four of the final five holes. Jang, 19, and Hollis tee off at 12:50, with Choi and Welch in the final group at 1 p.m.