Photograph courtesy of Tristan Jones/LET
Australian star Minjee Lee took advantage of the glorious weather conditions at Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club on Thursday afternoon and shot a sizzling seven-under-par 65 to lead after the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Lee is one stroke clear of Japan’s Mamiko Higa, with England’s Georgia Hall tied for third place only two shots from the lead.
It looked as though the 22-year-old from Perth, who has already won twice this year, at the Vic Open in February and at the LPGA Volvik Championship in May, was heading for a record-breaking performance after she made six birdies and an eagle in her first 16 holes, to reach eight-under-par. The highlight of her round was undoubtedly her eagle putt from 27 feet on the par-5 15th green. However, she dropped a shot at the difficult par-4 17th after taking three strokes to reach the greenside bunker, which was her only bogey on the card.
Lee has had a superb 2018 season to date, however her form in the major championships has been disappointing this year with finishes of 25th, 34th and 25th in the three majors played so far. Lee’s best finish in her four Women’s British Open appearances to date came three years ago in her rookie season when she finished in a tie for ninth place at Turnberry.
The world No.8, who finished as the runner-up to the world No.1 Ariya Jutanugarn after a tight battle in wet and windy conditions in the Aberdeen Standard Investment Ladies Scottish Open over the weekend, is no stranger to links courses and looking for her first Major title. She said: “I played pretty solid today. I holed a lot of putts.”
On a day of contrasting weather conditions, she admitted: “I think we got pretty lucky with the weather, and hopefully we’ll get lucky tomorrow, too.”
Higa and Hall also played in the wall-to-wall sunshine and Hall, who tied for third place last year at Kingsbarns, was pleased with her flawless score card.
The 2017 LET Player of the Year, who had her father Wayne as her caddie, said: “I just love coming back here and I have a lot of confidence from last year. And like my first tee shot I knocked it to a foot, so I was like confident from then, I think, and this golf course is really, really tough, and to play the round bogey free I’m actually really happy.”
Sung Hyun Park, Teresa Lu, Mi Hyang Lee and Pornanong Phatlum are tied with Hall on five-under.
Earlier in the day, the morning starters played in overcast and rainy conditions. Germany’s Sandra Gal set the target at four-under par and was later joined by Mina Harigae and Lydia Ko.
Rewind nine years and Gal tamed blustery conditions to post the first round lead of 69 the last time the championship was played at Royal Lytham in 2009. This time, she went one stroke lower, with six birdies against two bogeys, coming home.
Gal said: “It’s nice to be back here in the same position and on this beautiful golf course. I kind of know my game better. I’m hitting certain shots more on purpose. I think before I was just very young and just kind of reacting to everything.”
Gal has recently teamed up with Jordan Spieth’s coach Cameron McCormick in the last couple of months and says that he has made a big difference.
“We just cleaned up my swing. No big changes, but I think he gave me a little confidence with left-hand low putting and just kind of minor adjustments with that and then hitting consistently with my irons, with my tee shots. And that also has given me a lot of confidence.
“He was there last week, so we worked a lot on shots on this firm ground. So that plays a little bit different, so I think hitting those little cuts is key for me just to trap the ball a little bit better and keeping that ball flight down.”
Moving further down the leaderboard, Angel Yin, Florentyna Parker, Carlota Ciganda and Madelene Sagstrom were in a group on three-under-par.
Parker, whose home course is Royal Birkdale, another championship links, made a hole-in-one at the ninth using an 8-iron.
Of the other Australians in the field Rebecca Artis made a welcome return to form shooting an even par 72 to put her in a tie for 45th place. Su Oh is at +1 tied for 58th, Sarah Kemp is +2 tied for 82nd, Hannah Green and Katherine Kirk are at +3 tied 101st while Queenslanders Karrie Webb and Sarah Jane Smith have plenty of work to do to make it through to the weekend sitting in a tie for 122nd.
Live scoring can be found at https://ricohwomensbritishopen.com
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