LPGA Tour rookie Cheyenne Woods, 17-time winner Cristie Kerr and P.K. Kongkraphan tied the course record of 9-under 63 at Whistle Bear Country Club in Cambridge, Ontario and share the first-round lead at the Manulife LPGA Classic.
It was a banner day for all three players with Woods & Kongraphan carding career-low rounds and hold the lead after any round for the first time in their careers at am LPGA Tour event. Kerr made the turn in 29, her low score for nine holes in her 19-year career. The round of 63 was her lowest score since the final round of this event a year ago.
Woods put on a ball-striking clinic, hitting all 14 fairways, 16 greens and needed only 26 putts. She said the laid-back atmosphere with playing partners Jaye Marie Green and Canada’s Brittany Henderson helped her stay relaxed throughout the morning round.
“I played really solid all day,” said Woods. “I had one bogey, which was a stupid three‑putt, but overall I played solid. And I think the biggest thing, we were just having fun out there, Jaye Marie and I were talking the whole day and it was very relaxed, very relaxed atmosphere while we were playing. That's sometimes when I play my best and I guess it worked out.”
Perfect scoring conditions set up plenty of low scores on Thursday; Sandra Gal of Germany and Israel’s Laetitia Beck are in a tie for fourth and one shot back. Twenty-eight players are within four shots of the lead.
Woods had eight birdies and an eagle on the day with her only blemish coming on a three-putt bogey on No. 6. She had a mid-round tear starting with her eagle on the par 5 ninth hole and followed up with three-straight birdies to get to 7-under par. She then birdied 16 and 17 to get to 9-under and to take the outright lead.
Kerr went off later in the afternoon on the back nine and got off to a scorching start, birdieing seven of her first nine holes. Her lone bogey came on the par 4 fourth hole.
“I think you just know that the course is giving some birdies up and that if you're patient, you get a lot of opportunities and then get on a roll, which is what I did,” said Kerr. “You've just got to take it one day at a time. I mean, you know how golf is. I'm just going to enjoy the day, go finish with a little bit of practice and set some new goals.”
Kerr was runner-up in her first start at this event last season and already has a victory this year at the Kia Classic back in March.
Woods’ previous best finish at an LPGA Tour event was T23 at the 2014 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open as a non-member and is currently coming off a stretch of five-consecutive missed cuts. Her best showing so far in her rookie season was T24 at the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix in March. Asked if she’ll be as relaxed on Friday holding the lead as she was at the start of Thursday’s first round, Woods said the reason she plays is to be in this position.
“Yeah, I think so. It's just another day of golf,” said Woods. “It's great to be in this position, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. So for me I'm just going to go out there, it's a new day, and go into it with the same mindset and just go play golf.”
Kongraphan finished the day with three birdies on her final three holes including a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to get to 9-under par. The short but powerful Thai player is ranked 10th on Tour in driving distance and was averaging 305 yards in the first round on Thursday.
“I hit the ball very solid today,” said Kongraphan. “My tee shot is working very well and I tried to work on my wedges and worked very good today.”
Defending champ Inbee Park finished with a 3-under 69 and is tied for 43rd. World No. 1 Lydia Ko struggled in her first event back from a two-week break with a 1-under par and is currently sitting below the cut line at T86. Ko is danger of missing her first cut in an LPGA event. She has made every cut in her first 53 starts of her career, dating back to the 2012 Handa Women’s Australian Open.
“On the back nine I was putting and on the front it was just nothing really was clicking, not that many birdie opportunities,” said Ko. “And when you miss putts along the way, you're not going to shoot a good score. I think I'm hitting the ball good enough that I've got a good chance for tomorrow.”