Thanks to her best round of the season, Gerina Piller leads the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I by a shot, after she fired an 8-under-par 63 Thursday.
Piller, whose best finish of 2017 was a solo fourth at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, has four other top 15 finishes on the season. She made nine birdies offset with just one bogey Thursday at Highland Meadows Golf Club to lead by one over last week’s U.S. Women’s Open winner Sung Hyun Park and Peiyun Chien.
“I birdied my first three holes and any time you can start off three in a row, it's pretty good,” said Piller. “I just kept hitting it close and had some close birdie putts here and there, and I did make a bogey, but I just told myself like I'm doing great things and just keep doing what I'm doing.”
Piller started her day with four birdies in her first five holes and just kept the momentum going from there. The 32-year-old has never won on the LPGA Tour and is looking to make her first one a memorable one in Ohio.
“I feel like any time you shoot 8-under is pretty good,” said Piller. “I got off to a good start and got the putts rolling. To be honest, my ball-striking didn't feel as great coming into this weekend, and the week after a major it's always tough just because you're so exhausted mentally, and I just went out there and really trusted what I had and just brought it together, and my game feels really good right now.”
A shot back of Piller is Park, who is riding the hot streak from last week’s major championship win into this week. The rookie hasn’t missed a cut yet in 2017 and has five top-5 finishes on the season, including her U.S. Women’s Open victory.
“My feeling today was so awesome,” said Park. “It was a good start after the major championship winning, and first of all, I need to focus more on the Marathon Classic and want to keep my (major) happiness behind (me) from now on.
Park made no bogeys Thursday and said just staying in the moment was key for her.
“My fairway shots wasn't that concrete all the time, but I think I was pretty much satisfied with my other shots,” she said. “In Korea, I did win a lot, but here, especially for the major… I'm very happy for that. But currently I just want to focus on Marathon Classic, so it's not a big deal for me to put that behind me.”
Also at 7-under par after Thursday’s opener is Chien, also a rookie on Tour in 2017 but who hasn’t experienced the same kind of success as Park, making only six cuts on the season.
However, golf is a funny game. Things turned around for Chien on Thursday, and she made just one bogey en route to firing her best round of the season.
“I did well today because I changed my playing. I'm always thinking the swing on the golf course, so today I just played freely,” said Chien. “I tried to find some feeling and play, and it's worked. I'm very happy.”
Three players are a shot further back at 6-under par including Aditi Ashok, In-Kyung Kim, and Kelly Shon.
Ashok was bogey free on Thursday, and pointed to her putting as what helped her shoot one of her best rounds of 2017, in just her third LPGA Tour tournament this year.
“I think I hit a lot of good putts, and I also hit good approaches on the correct sides of the hole, so I always had uphill putts. But you still need to putt well to make that many birdies, so I think I did that,” she said. “I still feel like I could have made a couple more, but bogey-free was the positive.”
Two golfers are at 5-under after the first round including Sandra Changkija and Angel Yin, another rookie on Tour this year.
Eight golfers are at 4-under to round out the top 10 on the leaderboard, including Lexi Thompson, Alison Lee, and Brittany Lincicome, who is looking for her first top-10 finish since her victory at the first tournament of the season.
Toledo, Ohio native Stacy Lewis fired a 2-under-par 70 and sits six shots back.