Major championship golf courses aren’t supposed to be easy, and with shoe-swallowing, four-inch rough surrounding the twisting fairways of the par-72, 6,600-plus-yard test, this week promises to continue the norm. All of which goes a long way explaining South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff sharing the first-day lead at 4 under 68. One shot back are Amy Yang and Anna Nordqvist.
Neither Choi nor Pettersen, who happened to be grouped in an early morning twosome, made a bogey. Choi, No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, hit 13 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens. No. 8 Pettersen found nine of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation.
Choi and Pettersen were the only players in the field who managed to navigate the day without a stumble. Ewart Shadoff was the exception among the tri-leaders, mixing six birdies and two bogeys, but still hit eight fairways and 13 greens.
“No, and we weren't really close to making one,” Pettersen said about her bogey-less pairing. “I made one good up-and-down when I missed the fairway on 15 -- had an up-and-down from the bunker. That was pretty much the only kind of tough par I had out there.
“We played solid, both of us. It was a nice pace of play. It's really nice to get around in just over four hours. It really helps. It keeps the flow going, and like I said, I felt like I maybe left a few out there, but no complaints.”
Ditto for Choi.
“I'm really happy I played without a bogey today, but luckily I played in the morning today, and the greens and fairways are a little softer than the afternoon,” she said. “I have to play afternoon tomorrow. I have to be precise for second shots, and I have to try to get the ball to finish below the hole and try to make uphill putts.”
Beginning play off the 10th tee, Choi rolled off four straight pars then drained a 30-foot putt on the par-3 14th. Two more birdies followed over the next three holes.
“Yeah, I hit 8-iron for a tee shot,” she said. “I missed it a little bit right side, and then my ball finished on the fringe. After I made that putt, I think I got some momentum and then I got a birdie on 16 and 17.
“I didn't have birdie on the front nine until No.9, but I tried to stay calm and then kept trying too hard. Last one I got a good birdie there.”
Ewart Shadoff, a former University of New Mexico player in her third LPGA season, is the surprise guest, coming into the tournament ranked 110th in the world with a seventh-place finish at last year’s Kia Classic her career best.
“I played really consistently, got on a birdie train in the middle of my round which was nice.” said Ewart Shadoff, a newlywed. “I was hitting a lot of greens and making a lot of putts.
“I’ve been playing really consistently the last three or four tournaments and so I knew, my game is right there and I knew I was due to have a really good round.”
No one else enjoyed similar ease -- including No. 1 Stacy Lewis, the 2011 KNC winner who just last month ended Yani Tseng’s 109-week hold on the top ranking. Also starting play on the back nine, Lewis found water on the way to triple-bogey on the par-3 14th that Choi birdied and labored through the day, finishing 1-over 73. She was 3-over through 10 holes before coming back with two birdies to salvage some hope.
“I was in a couple divots and it was just kind of a strange day,” Lewis said. “I'm definitely disappointed, but I made some putts there on the back nine, which was nice.
“But considering I made a triple and I shot 1 over, yes, it's good. You know, the greens might be as firm as I've ever seen them for early in the week. Fairways -- the problem is you land short, it hits and stops. You land on the green and it releases. The greens are firm and it's playing hard, so I knew if I could somehow on the back nine get it back to even, I would be right there.”
With three days still to go, there remains time for plenty of movement.
Tseng also had her struggles but remains a threat. The five-time major winner from Taiwan had two birdies and two bogeys and finished even-par to trail by four.
“I thought I could play a little better because I missed a few short putts,” she said. “I can hit better shots, but it’s only the first day.”
Topics: ANA Inspiration