Taiwan’s Yani Tseng and Australia’s Katherine Hull both produced four under par rounds of 68 to storm into the lead after the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open at The Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport.
Tseng and Hull both eagled the 472-yard par-5 18th to go into the second round with a one shot lead over France’s Anne-Lise Caudal, Koreans Amy Yang and Sun Young Yoo, and big-hitting American Brittany Lincicome.
Michelle Wie, the 20 year-old American who won the Smyth Salver, awarded to the leading amateur, the last time the championship was played at Birkdale in 2005, carded a fine two under par 70 to share seventh place with another Korean, In-Kyung Kim.
American, Juli Inkster, the oldest competitor in the field at the age of 50, went out at 6.41 am in the second group of the day and posted a one under par 71 to share ninth place with 2008 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion Jiyai Shin, South Africa’s Stacy Bregman, Frenchwoman Gwladys Nocera and a trio of her compatriots, Brittany Lang, Stacy Lewis and Stacy Prammanasudh.
Veteran Englishwoman, Laura Davies, the champion at Birkdale in 1986, leads the home challenge after a level par 72 left her in a tie for 15th place alongside Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Carin Koch, Koreans Inbee Park, Hee-Won Han, He Young Park, Mi-Hyun Kim, Mindy Kim and Jee Young Lee, Japan’s Momoko Ueda, Scotland’s Janice Moodie, and Lynette Brooky, the 42 year-old from New Zealand who headed the field at the Final Qualifying event at nearby Hillside Golf Club on Monday.
Tseng started the season with a win in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her second career Major victory, and she duplicated that sort of form with a spectacular round in which she defied the blustery conditions by hitting all 18 greens in regulation.
The World No. 5 started her round with five straight pars before getting up-and-down out of a greenside bunker for a birdie on the 478-yard par-5 5th. She went on to post a further ten straight pars before exploding to the top of the leaderboard with a birdie on the 516-yard par-5 17th and an eagle on the 472-yard par-5 18th where she hit a 6-iron to 25-feet and holed out for her three.
“I played very solid today,” she admitted. “I hit all 18 greens in regulation and any time you do that you know you are playing well.
“I love links golf,” she added. “It makes me think more. You have to focus on every shot, instead of looking forward and looking back. As soon as I arrived here this week, I knew I liked the course.”
Hull started the day with three straight pars before dropping a shot at the 175 yard par-3 4th. She recovered with three birdies in four holes from the 7th and then claimed her share of the lead when she hit a hybrid four to the back of the green on the 18th and holed from 60-feet across the green.
Hull attributed her welcome return to form to a long chat she had with her caddie, Vern Tess, in the lead up to the Championship. “We decided I was getting a bit lazy with my routine, sorted that out and it seemed to do the trick.
“Certainly, I hit the ball a lot better than I have been over the last few weeks,” she added before explaining Tess was wearing a bandage on his head because he had cut himself shaving that morning.
“He called to say he might be a bit late and I have to admit I laughed when I saw him.”
Tseng and Hull are both ranked among the longest hitters in the women’s game and that is clearly a quality that will be required on a formidable Birkdale course measuring almost 6,500-yards and dampened down by regular squally showers in a run up to the Championship.
Lincicome and Wie are also renowned for the distance they hit the ball and both also revelled in the testing conditions.
Wie started the round with a bogey five after driving into the rough but then carded no less than 15 par figures before emulating Tseng by reducing the par 5 17th and 18th holes to a mere seven shots.
“You know, I felt good today,” she said. “I think that I stayed patient and that’s what you have to do.
“Before we started, I said to my caddie, Brendan, that I wasn’t going to get frustrated (no matter what happened). I just wanted to hit good shots and not worry too much about the outcome. Once you’ve hit it, there’s nothing you can do about where it goes.
Lincicome, who preceded Tseng as Kraft Nabisco champion, produced the most remarkable round of the day, an outcome that might have come as something of a relief given that back in 2005, when she made her debut in the Championship at Birkdale, she finished last in the field after rounds of 82 and 80.
This time, a similar fate seemed possible when the American opened with a double bogey six on the 1st and a bogey five on the 2nd but three successive birdies from the 6th saw her go out in level par 36 and she proceeded to come home in 34 with further birdies on the 14th, 15th and 18th.
“That definitely wasn’t the start I was looking for,” she admitted, “but I’m more than happy with the finish.
“I holed a couple of long putts and, being one of the longer hitters, it’s definitely a little bit easier because I was hitting wedges rather than mid-irons into a lot of the holes.
“Today, I also did a very good job of keeping the ball in play and, anytime I do that, I tend to shoot a low score.”
Lincicome is one of a total of over 40 golfers who go into the second round within five shots of the leaders, Tseng and Hull. There will be a cut at the end of the second round, with the top 65 golfers and ties going forward to the third and fourth rounds on Saturday and Sunday.
The race for the Smyth Salver, presented to the leading amateur, looks as if it could right to the wire. Heading into the second round, Ireland’s Danielle McVeigh, Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, and 15 year-old Korean, Julie Yang, share the lead, all having scored two over par 74s. However, it was a less successful day for Royal Birkdale member, Kelly Tidy, the new British Ladies’ champion. She ran up a treble bogey eight on the last to finish tied with Welsh amateur international, Amy Boulden, on six over par 78.