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  • 19 Oct 2014

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She's some kind of Gal, and maybe Safeway Classic champion

Sandra Gal is, if you will, a Renaissance woman.

Rest assured that the native of Cologne, Germany, knows where her bread is buttered.

Golf is her living, and she does quite well, thank you, as a member of the LPGA Tour.

But the 27-year-old University of Florida graduate is also an accomplished artist -- she has auctioned off several of her paintings for charity -- who played the violin and took ballet for 15 years as a child.

"There are many things I like doing," said Gal. And certainly, golf is the one she does best.

Gal (pronounced "Gahl") heads into Saturday's third round of the 72-hole Safeway Classic two shots behind leader Pornanong Phatlum after carving out rounds of 66-66 for a 36-hole score of 12-under-par 132.

Art, Gal said, "is something I did as a hobby growing up. I knew I wasn't going to make a living with it."

What are her other interests?

"Dancing," she said. "And I like to sing."

Is she good?

"That's for someone else to say," she said, tossing back her head and laughing.

Ballet, she offered, "helped me growing up. You get a really good feel for your body, how you move in place, that graceful balance … it's like another sport."

The 6-foot, 130-pound Gal looks like a model -- she won Golf Digest's "Hottest Golfer" contest last year -- but plays golf like an athlete. She entered the week 52nd on the LPGA money list this season with $164,335 in earnings, but that total should get a significant boost on Sunday.

It's been an up-and-down year for Gal, who ranked 20th on the LPGA money list in 2011 and 25th last year. She had missed the cut in four of her last seven events coming to Portland.

"But my game has been getting there the last month or two," she said. "I just haven't been making any putts. When that comes together … plus you hit (chip shots) some close for tap-ins … it all accumulates. I've been seeing the progress for awhile. It's nice to see the scores come together."

The ladies have mopped up on Columbia Edgewater the past two days. Seven players have shot 10-under or better. Phatlum's 36-hole score was the lowest in Safeway Classic history. Suzann Pettersen's second-round 63 was a stroke off the tourney 18-hole record co-held by Annika Sorenstam in 2002 and Beth Daniel in 2003.

Gal, whose only career championship came at the 2011 Kia Classic, had never before shot 66-66 in an LPGA event.

"That's pretty low," she said. "You want to give yourself a chance to be in contention on Sunday. I'm there after two days, but it's just half the tournament. Every day, people are shooting low scores. There is still lots of work to do."

Gal came to Florida as a naive 18-year-old German. Nine years later, she doesn't disavow her heritage.

"I'm European," she said, laughing again. "Those are my roots. I can still say I spent most of my life in Europe. Maybe one day I won't be able to say that.

"I do love living in the States. This is where I make my money. This is where a lot of my friends are. The LPGA gives me great opportunities to play in the States and all over the world. I'm taking in all the different cultures and enjoying them all."

Gal has played the Safeway Classic six times and claims an affinity for the Portland area and the tournament.

"I love it -- this course especially," she said. "I love the trees here. They're so amazing. There's always something to look at during my shots.

"Plus being out on the West Coast, there's something about it -- great food, great weather, great people."

Tournament director Tom Maletis promises the Columbia Edgewater layout will be more difficult the final two days. Temperatures will rise, winds will blow, pin placements will be more testing. I think 20 under would be a good number for Gal to shoot for.

"I'm just trying to hit one shot at a time and make birdies," she said, that laugh surfacing again. "Who knows? Anyone can go really low. Anything is possible the next two days."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers