Rolex Rankings No. 13 Catriona Matthew and No. 19 Angela Stanford both shot 8-under 63 to earn a share of the first-round lead at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.
Australia's Karrie Webb is tied in 41st place after a 2-under par 70. Victorian Breanna Elliott and Queensland's Katherine Hull-Kirk shot 1-under to be tied 54th.
The remaining Australians will have some work to do to make the cut, Sarah Jane Smith is at one-over and tied for 98th, whilst Sarah Kemp is a further shot back and tied for 114th position. Lindsey Wright, Julia Boland, Frances Bondad all posted rounds of 74 to be tied for 125th, while Stephanie Na, who is making a rare appearance on the LPGA, is tied for 132nd.
Co-leader Matthew carded nine birdies and one bogey on the day and recorded the lowest raw score of her career. Stanford had eight birdies in her bogey-free round. The duo has a two-shot lead over a group of five players including Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park at 6-under par.
Matthew started the day on the par 4 11th in the morning wave and picked up her only bogey of the round on No. 12. But it was all uphill from there as she went on a tear of nine birdies with five coming on her final six holes.
“I hit it close all day, which gives you a lot of chances, and then obviously I putted well,” said Matthew. “I gave myself a lot of chances but took advantage of them.”
The Scotland native hit all 14 fairways on Thursday and said the soft conditions from heavy rains earlier in the week provided opportunities to attack the pins.
“They were pretty soft,” said Matthew. “The ball was just stopping pretty much where you hit it in, so you could get it quite close if you were on the fairways.”
Matthew closed out with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 and sank her longest putt of the day on the 10th hole, a 25-footer, to finish at 8-under. She missed the Tour’s inaugural stop in Waterloo last season and said the course is playing differently from what she heard from fellow Tour pros who played at Grey Silo in 2012.
“It's a nice course,” said Matthew. “Maybe not playing last year, everyone told me it played hard and fast last year, so to me this is how it is, so it doesn't seem any different to me. If you drive it well, you can have quite a few short irons in. With it being soft I think last year they said it was just bouncing, it was hard to get it close, so obviously it was a lot easier to get it close with the greens being soft.”
Stanford also started on the 11th hole but later in the afternoon wave. The Saginaw, Texas native sat three shots off the lead with three holes to play in her round on Thursday evening.
“I kind of thought about it on 8 tee box that I had three holes left and I knew one of them is a par 3 and the other two par 4s, I might have a wedge in. So I really just tried to hit quality shots into the greens and had the opportunities I wanted and made them.”
Stanford closed with three-consecutive birdies to grab a share of the first-round lead. The five-time LPGA Tour winner said the softer conditions at Grey Silo Golf Course suit her game particularly well.
“It's better for me, my ball tends to release more than others, so it's nice to have the greens a little bit softer,” said Stanford. “But I still thought they were firmer than I thought they would be and I think they'll firm up. If we don't get any more rain, the course will be perfect by Sunday.”
A group of five players trail Matthew and Stanford by two shots and sit in a tie for third. Hee Young Park, Meena Lee, Belen Mozo, Irene Cho and Inbee Park all shot opening rounds of 6-under 65.