When Se Ri Pak rolled in a par putt on her final hole of the second round at the LPGA Championship, she smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
Playing in her first tournament since injuring her left shoulder in early April, the Hall of Famer shot a 1-under 71 on Friday to take a one-shot lead.
"I'm happy to be back in this seat," Pak said. "Before I teed off, I knew it was tougher because of the wind. It was very difficult. I tried not to make big mistakes. I'm very happy about the finish. I got a couple of great up and downs."
Pak was at 3-under 141, one shot ahead of Inbee Park (70), Paula Creamer (72), Mika Miyazato (72), and Sandra Gal (71).
Defending champion Yani Tseng followed her opening 76 with a 75 to finish the two rounds at 7-over 151 and was positioned to barely make the cut in a tournament she dominated a year ago.
"I did my best," Tseng said. "I hung in there."
It was difficult for Pak and everybody else. After reaching 4 under with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17, Pak struggled through the front nine, making bogey at the par-3 seventh when she drove the right rough in front of the green and couldn't get up and down. She did salvage par on four straight holes on the front, though, after some errant shots to stay in front of the pack.
"Right now, I'm still not 100 percent," said Pak, who often shook her left arm as the day wore on. "I'm slowly better every day. I know it'll take a little while. I'm just trying to not push myself out there too much. Out of an injury, you don't have high expectations."
First-round leaders Beatriz Recari, Giulia Sergas and Ryann O'Toole, fell off the pace on a day that a swirling wind added yet another challenge on the narrow Locust Hill Country Club course. Sergas and O'Toole shot 76, and Recari had a 78.
Cristie Kerr, the runaway winner in 2010, was 2 over after a 76. Slumping Michelle Wie missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 82.
For the second straight day, nobody was able to make a charge as a swirling wind added yet another challenge on the narrow Locust Hill Country Club course, forcing players and caddies to drop blades of grass to check the direction of the breeze before nearly every shot on a sunny, warm day.
A day after only 16 players broke par, just 12 did on Friday, and again only three broke 70. Eun-Hee Ji (68) had the lowest round of the two days and was in a six-way tie at 143. Mi Jung Hur and Karin Sjodin each shot 69 as the top of the leaderboard remained a logjam with 24 players within four shots of Pak. The cut was at 7 over, five strokes more than last year when Tseng shot 19 under and won by 10 shots.
Playing in a threesome with Creamer and Stacy Lewis, Tseng birdied No. 1 and seemed ready to make a surge, avoiding the thick rough that has transformed the course into a real challenge for the entire field.
Tseng hit four of her first five fairways and reached six of the first seven greens in regulation. She easily could have made three more birdies but missed short tries at Nos. 3, 4, and 5. Her drive at the par-3 fifth hole landed a foot from the pin and rolled slightly away, and she slid her 5-foot birdie try just past the left lip of the cup after Lewis had made birdie from nearly the same distance.
"I play so good the front nine," Tseng said. "Didn't make any putts. It could be so much a better score today."
The frustration showed, and Tseng's tee shot at the par-4 sixth hole prompted a yell of "Fore!" from the officials as it sailed into the left rough. Tseng salvaged a par but bogeyed No. 7, then rallied with consecutive birdies to reach 2 under at the turn.
Tseng self-destructed on the back nine with five bogeys.
"I was shocked," Lewis said. "It's probably the worst I've seen Yani play over two days straight. Usually, if she has a bad day, she bounces back the next day. It wasn't the usual Yani."
Lewis struggled, too, making four birdies and four bogeys to finish at even par for the second straight day.
"Today, the wind was brutal," Lewis said. "Once we hit nine, from then on it was blowing pretty hard. It was really hard, a lot harder than yesterday. In the middle of the back nine, I think I was counting down the number of holes we had left."
The trio did have a few fleeting moments. All three birdied the par-3 ninth hole, Lewis chipping in from the fringe, and the large gallery following them roared in approval.
The celebration was short-lived. Lewis and Creamer each managed just one birdie and one bogey on the back side and finished the day pretty much where they started.
At least they were in the hunt.
"People knew how hard it was. They were struggling through it with us," said Lewis, who won two of her previous three starts. "You miss the fairway by an inch and you have no shot. You're making bogey at best. You have to keep your focus — you're going to make a bogey, you're going to make a bad swing — and just move on. I'm hanging in there."
When Creamer blasted out of a sand trap at No. 16, sand blew back in her face as she watched her ball roll well past the cup and made bogey. A birdie at the par-5 17th hole left her at even par for the day.
"Where I'm at right now, I feel pretty good," said Creamer, whose last victory on tour was the 2010 U.S. Women's Open. "I've played well, I've played solid. I've made my mistakes, but at the same time I'm right in contention. There's a lot of golf left."
Not for Grace Park. After 13 injury-plagued years on the LPGA Tour, the 33-year-old South Korean announced her retirement.
"This last back nine I think I gave it my all," said Park, who made the cut and said she planned to finish the tournament. "I started to get tears in my eyes. It was very emotional."
Divots: Tee times for Saturday were adjusted because of the threat of inclement weather. Players will tee off in threesomes on the first and 10th tees at 7 a.m. ... Cheyenne Woods, niece of Tiger Woods, missed the cut with rounds of 75 and 79 in her first tournament as a pro. ... U.S. Women's Open champion So Yeon Ryu was tied for the lead at 3 under, but made a double bogey on her final hole, the par-3 ninth, after driving over the green into the rough.