SHOAL CREEK, Ala.: Australian Sarah Jane Smith carded a second consecutive five-under-par 67 to take a four-stroke lead at the U.S. Women's Open on Friday as play was interrupted by a long weather delay that prevented half the field from completing their second round.
Smith played with a confidence that belied her recent poor results and a career resume that does not include a single LPGA victory in 222 starts.
The 33-year-old took advantage of benign early conditions to pick up five birdies on her outward half on a rain-softened Shoal Creek course and surge clear of the field.
"I was definitely nervous but not like I've been in the past. I was actually kind of happy with how I handled it a bit more today," the world number 97 said of leading.
"I find the nerves of playing bad are a lot harder to deal with than the nerves of playing good. So I feel like it's a different nerves but they were there."
With a 10-under 134 halfway total, Smith enjoyed a nice buffer over compatriot Su Oh, who eagled the par-four 15th en route to a 68 for six-under 138.
Ariya was also six under after eight holes, among half the field unable to complete the round following a lightning delay that stretched to nearly four hours.
Play finally resumed just after 6 p.m. local time but was halted for the day barely an hour later amid fading light and nearby storm clouds that a few minutes later dumped more rain on an already soggy layout.
The second round is scheduled to resume at 6.45 a.m. (1145 GMT) on Saturday before the third round gets going early in the afternoon.
Smith could become the second consecutive player to make her first LPGA win a major after Pernilla Lindberg at the ANA Inspiration in April.
She could also make it consecutive Australian major winners at Shoal Creek following Wayne Grady's victory at the 1990 PGA Championship and was delighted to see her name atop the leaderboard for the entire round.
"It's kind of fun seeing that," she said.
"It was weird (building a big lead). It just felt really easy. It was strange, the front nine. I was sort of holing a lot of putts. I didn't hit a great shot into 13, and then holed maybe a 40-footer for birdie there.
"I hit a couple squirrelly shots (late in the round), but made some nice up-and-downs. Obviously it sucked to have the three-putt on eight (her 17th), but can't complain too much."
Smith, coached by one of Tiger Woods' previous instructors, Sean Foley, arrived at Shoal Creek after five missed cuts in six starts.
"(Foley told me to) keep showing up, it's going to turn around. He just kind of set me straight."
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Peter Rutherford)