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Malixi fires 71, stays in hunt

Rianne Malixi checked an impending frontside slide with birdies in the last two holes as she saved a one-under 71 to remain a shot behind Kaitlyn Schroeder, whose two eagle-feat steered her to a 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead with fellow American Julia Misemer in the second round of the Junior PGA Championships in Palos Park, Illinois Wednesday.

Play was suspended due to darkness with a number of players to complete their respective rounds early Thursday, including Misemer, who hobbled with bogeys on Nos. 5 and 7 after an eagle-spiked backside 33 before the round was stopped.

Her running one-under card and a nine-under aggregate, however, kept her in step with Schroeder, who assembled a 135 after a six-under card that featured eagles on Nos. 5 and 11 and four birdies against two bogeys.

Jaclyn LaHa also shot a 71 in challenging conditions but stayed at fourth at 137 in a provisional tie with Katie Li, who had a three-under card with two holes left to play, while Japanese Nika Ito slipped to sixth at 138, also after a 71.

Thai Thanana Kotchasanmanee likewise turned in a 71 for joint seventh at 139 with Kiara Romero of the US, who fought back with a 68, as the chase for top honors headed to a shootout or wild finish with six others within striking distance with two rounds to play.

The ICTSI-backed Malixi birdied the last two holes to make up for her mishaps on Nos. 3, 6 and 7, her 37-34 keeping her in the mix of things at 136 and a clear shot at the crown in the lead-up to her US Women’s Amateur stint in Kentucky next week.

Impressive with her closing run of birdies at Cog Hill’s Ravine’s layout that netted her a first round 65 Tuesday, Malixi actually sustained her top form, birdying two of the first six holes at the back and holing out with another birdie to negate a miscue on No. 17.

But the two-time American Junior Golf Association tour winner lost her rhythm at the front, dropping a stroke on No. 3 and losing two more on Nos. 6 and 7. But she closed out with a flourish, birdying the last two to save a 37-34.

She actually hit the greenside bunker on the par-4 No. 3 but skulled her shot, made it in three and two-putted.

Malixi also hit the par-3 No. 6 but the ball bounced and rolled past the firm green. Facing a fast downhill target, she chipped 20 feet past the cup and two putted.

She also had a bad break after hitting the No. 7 fairway, the ball bouncing right and into the water hazard for another bogey.

But she rose to the challenge and birdied the last two holes in close range off superb driving, iron play and putting in a finish she hoped would spark a strong start in the crucial third round skirmish.

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