BELLEAIR — The buzz ahead of the Pelican Women’s Championship revolved around the third-year LPGA Tour tournament compiling its deepest field yet.
Seven of the world’s top 10 in the rankings had committed and 15 of the top 25. The field had 24 major champions and eight golfers who had at one point been No. 1 in the world.
But after 36 holes, two rookies rose to the top of the field. American Allisen Corpuz shot 5-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead at 10-under 130 at the Pelican Golf Club, and Sweden’s Maja Stark shot 63 to sit in the group at 9 under.
Lexi Thompson (67) and first-round leader Maria Fassi (69) also were at 9 under. Defending champion Nelly Korda (66) and Carlota Ciganda (68) sat two strokes back in the tournament cut to 54 holes because Hurricane Nicole forced cancellation of play Thursday.
Corpuz, 24, earned her tour card in the LPGA Q-Series last year. Stark, 22, earned her card by winning this year’s Handa World Invitational in August.
Stark’s win is the only one between them; Corpuz’s best finish is runnerup to Stark in the Handa World Invitational. Perhaps more important, they have learned how to balance how many tournaments their minds want to play with how many their bodies can endure.
“Just realized how stupid it is to just, like, keep pushing because the results are just getting worse,” said Stark, who has played nine tournaments this year total. “Mentally, I’m feeling worse, and it’s just not worth it.”
She missed three cuts and finished tied for 41st before winning the Handa World Invitational. Since then, her best finish is eighth.
Stark, who previously played on the Ladies European Tour, knew she wanted to play full time on the LPGA Tour after winning the Handa World Invitational. She looked at the schedule and committed to event after event, starting with the Portland Classic and continuing through the Mediheal Championship at the beginning of October.
But between getting sick and having shoulder inflammation at the same time — a “lovely combo,” she said sarcastically — Stark noticed that she needed a break before the end of the season.
“I think I thought that I would’ve been able to manage more,” Stark said.
She rested, then returned to Sweden, coaching the girls national team. They looked up to Stark “too much” at the beginning of the week, she said, and her goal was to minimize that, trying to instead help their golf skills while sharing the importance of not doing something just because it had worked in her career.
After a “very intense” few months on the tour, Stark said, coaching the national team gave her some inspiration and a different perspective. It has carried over to her first two rounds at the Pelican, and her 63 was the best score Saturday. Stark had eight birdies and just one bogey, on the par-4 second hole.
Corpuz has faced a similar learning curve in her first full year on the tour. After playing in 22 events, she withdrew late from the Japan Classic last weekend to prepare for this tournament, understanding the balance between playing and resting.
Her eight top-20 finishes this year weren’t necessarily expected, Corpuz said. She had anticipated needing to do more in order to maintain her tour card.
“I think I know that I’m a really solid player,” Corpuz said, “and it’s just really nice to have seen the results this early.”
Stark and Corpuz have positioned themselves to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship next weekend in Naples. The top 60 in season points after the Pelican earn a chance to compete for the $2 million first-place prize, and they rank Nos. 53 and 44, respectively.
Corpuz said she is excited to have a chance to participate in the Tour Championship as a rookie. Stark said she didn’t even know the qualifications — or that she neared being qualified — until someone mentioned it to her.
When asked what she would do with a $2 million check, Stark paused. Maybe save it, she said. She hadn’t splurged with any winnings yet; her most expensive purchase was likely Invisalign teeth straightening for around $5,000.
But whatever purchase Stark would make wouldn’t include more traveling, she said. The United States, Thailand, Australia, Spain, London, France, Belgium, Sweden — and a lesson about balance — have been enough for one year.
“Absolutely not,” Stark said. “No tourism.”