NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Liselotte Neumann only had to glance at her caddie's back -- and her name misspelled as "Newmann" on the vest -- to realize how long it had been since she held a lead on the LPGA Tour.
The 38-year-old Swede had just 22 putts Friday on the way to her second straight 68 and a share of the lead with Donna Andrews (68) and Wales' Becky Morgan (69) at 8 under halfway through the LPGA Asahi Ryokuken International Championship.
It was the first time Neumann has topped the leaderboard since the third round of the 2002 Nabisco Championships, where she wound up second to Annika Sorenstam.
"It's been awhile," Neumann said.
And probably just as long since she putted this well.
The 1988 U.S. Women's Open champion had a stretch of consecutive birdie putts of 15, 17, 25 and 30 feet and, at 10 under, briefly threatened to run away from the field in the LPGA Tour's final full-field tournament of the year. Back-to-back bogeys at Mount Vintage Plantation, though, dropped her back into a tie.
Neumann knew she was having a good day on the greens as the putts continued to fall. When the 30-footer disappeared into the cup on No. 2 for her fourth straight birdie, Neumann threw her hands up in wonder.
"You just say, 'It's a bucket today, everything's dropping,' " she said. "It makes up for all the ones you miss."
Neumann also holed a bunker shot for birdie on the 14th hole.
Andrews' round included birdie putts of 40 and 50 feet. Morgan
finished two rounds without a bogey.
Cristie Kerr (68), Laura Davies (69) and Jeong Jang (67) were
two strokes behind the leaders at 6 under. Beth Daniel, a South
Carolina native and Hall of Famer, was three shots behind after a
Neumann, who won the last of her 12 LPGA Tour titles in 1998,
entered the week 83rd on the money list. She's trying close the
year with a big check to join those in the top 70 qualifying for
next year's Nabisco tournament -- a favorite major that Neumann
missed a year ago.
"That was hard," she said.
Andrews, also winless since 1998, felt she was rounding into
form after missing seven weeks because of a separated right
shoulder. Andrews stepped in the middle of a dogfight -- literally --
trying to break up a barking battle between her 90-pound Akita and
a dog owned by the woman who helps care for Andrews' horses.
The Akita was on Andrews' right arm "and she obviously was
pulling a lot harder than I was and pulled my shoulder right out,"
Andrews has had to get ample rest while the shoulder recovered.
She returned for the U.S. Open, then took a week off to rest. She
finished ninth in the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic in July, then took
three more weeks off. Andrews has played in six of the final seven
tournaments. "I just never know from one day to the next" how the
shoulder will feel, she says.
Morgan has probably been the most consistent player at Mount
Vintage. She missed only five fairways and has yet to chip around
the greens. Morgan says even when she's missed, she has been close
enough to putt.
Morgan moved into the three-way tie with a two-putt birdie from 30 feet after reaching the par-5 sixth hole in two. She finished off her steady round with three pars.
"I kind of feel like this is the best I played all year," she said.
There's a lot of that going around -- just ask Newmann, uh, Neumann.
"If I win," she laughed, "I just might change my name."
Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner shot an 82, a stroke better than her first-round score. But the 65-year-old Carner still finished last in the field at 21-over 165. ... Kerr complained about several unfair pin placements at Mount Vintage. However, she didn't want to criticize tournament officials. "I'm sure they've been beat up enough about them," she said. ... Those missing the
3-over cut included Natalie Gulbis and past Asahi Ryokuken winners Tina Fischer and Janice Moodie.