ROGERS – It was an ace that propelled Ayako Uehara to the top of the leaderboard early on day one of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
But it wasn’t a hole-in-one she made on Friday. It was three years ago.
In 2013, Uehara made the trip to Rogers and found the bottom of the cup with her tee shot at the Loudest Hole On Tour, the par 3, 17th hole. For days, Uehara has been replaying the video of that shot to reigniting the fire she found with that ace.
And it worked.
Uehara matched the Tournament’s 18-hole scoring record on Friday with a nine-under par, 62, previously set by Jane Park and Angela Park in 2008. The round is also a person best for the native of Japan, whose previously low round was a 63. The 2013 rookie posted her best finish on Tour at the 2012 TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC where she finished third. She’s made the cut in six of her 15 starts this season, but five of those came in her last six starts as Uehara says her work with her instructor is beginning to take hold.
"With the caddie and the trainer, everybody is like teamwork, and then that's my motivation now, and so everything is coming together, including the swing coach," Uehara told the media through a translator after her round.
The No.215 ranked player in the Rolex Rankings leads by two-strokes early in round one, ahead of Candie Kung at seven-under par, who posted her low round of 2016 on Friday where she was in the zone and not thinking of much of anything at Pinnacle Country Club.
“We kind of put it on cruise control and just go, yes, without thinking a whole lot, and then once you stop waiting for the group in front then you start thinking about stuff, which is not good,” Kung told the media. “I was having a lot of fun, and we had a good group of people that I like, and we all played very fast, so I think that helps, too, and we didn't wait at all the whole round, so I think that helps, too.”
A group from the morning wave sits at six-under par, including Carlota Ciganda, Ai Miyazato, So Yeon Ryu, P.K. Kongkraphan and Morgan Pressel, who posted her low round of 2016 on Friday with a six-under par, 65.
“I hit my wedges very well today. I certainly got off to a good start on 1 and 10 and 11. I think I really only made ‑‑ I'm trying to remember ‑‑ one birdie putt over maybe six or seven feet for the most part. I hit it pretty close all day and gave myself a lot of opportunities,” Pressel told the media.
Pressel has struggled in 2016, posting just one top-10 finish so far this season. When she arrived at this event last season, she had already posted five top-5 finishes. Although she opened with a 67 last year, she posted a second round 74 to miss the cut. Pressel knows this time around she will need to stay aggressive to remain within striking distance of the lead.
“Definitely there's not a whole lot of room for error in a three‑day event. You've just got to come out tomorrow and try to get myself just as many, if not more birdie opportunities,” Pressel said.
Haru Nomura recorded a hole-in-one at the par 3, 11th hole, her second hole of the day. She carded a three-under par, 68 on Friday.