Australian Kristie Smith is just two back of the lead after the opening round of the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship being played at Mission Hills, Haikou, Hainan in China.
Smith carded a three-under-par 69 on the Sandbelt Trials Course, which included five birdies and two bogeys. The Western Australian is tied for ninth and well within strike of the trio of players who lead at five-under-par.
Sweden’s Linda Wessberg, France’s Gwladys Nocera and England’s Sophie Walker, all out in the morning, posted rounds of five under par 67 in warm and slightly breezy conditions.
They lead by one over Rolex Ranked World No.4 South Korean Inbee Park, France’s Valentine Derrey, Thailand’s Rungthiwa Pangjan, South Koreans Bo-Mi Suh and hot young amateur Hyo-Joo Kim.
Smith is one of six players at three-under-par, with a number of the bigger names lurking at two-under-par including Norwegian World No.8 Suzann Pettersen, last year’s winner Shanshan Feng of China and England’s Laura Davies, who eagled the 300-yard par-four third hole. Australians Bree Arthur and Stephanie Na are also in the group at two-under-par and right in the mix.
All three of the leaders were bogey-free, with Walker and Wessberg firing five birdies each. Nocera, the European No.1 in 2008, when she won five titles on the LET, mixed three birdies with an eagle on the 462-yard par-five 18th hole. She picked up three shots in her final two holes, having birdied the par-four 17th.
“There are days when you finish with a bad hole, the frustration gets to you but of course when you finish like that it is even better,” Nocera said.
“I missed a couple of short putts on the front nine for birdies but I made some good ones to get some pars and then I finished with a good birdie on the 17th and a long putt, like a 15 metre putt on 18, to make it an eagle. I am pretty happy with the way I am hitting the ball, so it’s good.”
Of the remaining Australians in the field, Nikki Garrett is tied for 26th at one-under, while Karen Lunn, Nikki Campbell and Rebecca Artis are all a further shot back and tied for 36th. Stacey Keating is currently at one-over and tied for 55th, while Sarah Kemp is at two-over and tied for 65th position.
In the 72-hole strokeplay team competition running concurrently, Korean pair Inbee Park and Ha Neul Kim lead, with a combined aggregate score of 137, seven under par, followed by French pair Gwladys Nocera and Anne-Lise Caudal two strokes back and then English duo Laura Davies and Trish Johnson in third on 140.
Spain is fourth, followed by Norway and South Africa in joint fifth and then the defending Chinese team of Shanshan Feng and Li Ying Ye in a share of seventh place with Thailand and the United States.
Australia is represented by Karen Lunn (72) and Stacey Keating (73) in the team's competition. Their combined total of 145 puts them in tied for 10th position.
There is a cut for the top 50 professionals and ties after tomorrow’s second round to contest the final two rounds of the individual stroke play tournament, while any players in the team competition who miss the cut will also be required to play over the weekend.