PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Se Ri Pak made an inspiring return.
Cristie Kerr played as if she is determined to seize back her status as top American as quickly as she can.
Paula Creamer moved into early position to win her second major championship.
The LPGA’s Spanish women are hot. We’re talking about golf now with Beatriz Recari getting in the early hunt just two events after fellow countrywoman Azahara Munoz won the Sybase Match Play Championship. No Spaniard has ever won a women’s major championship.
And Ryann O’Toole and Giulia Sergas made surprising runs to the top of the leaderboard.
The Wegmans LPGA Championship percolated with storylines in the first round Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club.
With world No. 1 Yani Tseng off to a sluggish start with a 76 a year after she routed the field here, the tournament’s up for grabs early.
Recari, O’Toole and Sergas led the way with 3-under-par 69s. Pak, Kerr and Creamer were all in a group of seven players just a shot behind.
A look at some of the top storylines:
Pak is back
Pak, 34, wasn’t supposed to be here. After slightly tearing the labrum in her left shoulder slipping on clubhouse steps at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic six weeks ago, the Hall of Famer wondered if she would miss the rest of the season.
Her reaction upon first hearing the diagnosis was fear she would miss the U.S. Women’s Open this summer in its return to Blackwolf Run, which is practically sacred ground in South Korean golf history. It’s where Pak’s victory in 1998 inspired the birth of a generation of dominant South Korean golfers.
When Pak stepped onto the course Monday to practice, she got double takes.
“Players, caddies, they’re looking at me like, `What are you doing here?’” Pak said.
Well, she’s here to win, as improbable as that sounds just 10 days after she began hitting full shots as part of her whirlwind rehab.
“She’s obviously a quick healer,” said Mark Wuersching, her caddie. “The doctors cleared her, but let’s put it this way, nobody was going to stop her from playing here.”
Pak says her shoulder feels “100 percent,” and it looked that way as she navigated her way around Locust Hill with four birdies and two bogeys. She is a 25-time LPGA winner with three of her five major championship titles coming at the LPGA Championship. Her last title came at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic two years ago.
“Se Ri wants to win now more than she ever has,” Wuersching said.
Pak showed it outplaying young South Korean stars Sun Young Yoo (72) and So Yeon Ryu (73) in a pairing together. They are the reigning Kraft Nabisco and U.S. Women’s Open champs, respectively.
Wuersching knows how determined Pak is to have her game ready for Blackwolf Run.
“Before last year was over, Se Ri was talking about returning to Blackwolf Run,” Wuersching said. “This is the year she has been looking to step up.”
Pak started her ascent Thursday.
Kerr eyes the prize
Kerr didn’t like being passed by Stacy Lewis as the top American in the Rolex World Rankings this week.
She also doesn’t like the fact that she hasn’t won anything since running away with the LPGA Championship title here two years ago.
Lewis jumped to No. 3 in the world on Monday, but Kerr, now at No. 7, wants her spot back. Locust Hill is a place she knows she can make a statement. She made a large one winning by 12 shots here two years ago.
“I was really great mentally,” said Kerr, 34. “I didn’t put too much pressure on myself today. I just tried to go out there and do my thing like I did a couple years ago.”
Creamer loves Locust Hill
Creamer has special feelings for Locust Hill. This is where her grandfather, Tom Creamer, saw her play most of her golf on the tour. He would drive over from his Ithaca, N.Y., home to root for her. She relished their time together before his death earlier this year.
With a quick start, Creamer, 25, is in early position to claim the victory she always wanted here.
“I feel pretty good sitting at 2 under,” Creamer said.
Recari, 25, broke through to win the CVS/pharmacy Challenge two years ago for her first and only LPGA title. She’s looking to make it two wins in three events for the Spaniards and follow up Munoz’s victory at the Sybase Match Play Championship.
“It feels almost like relief because I’ve been playing well for a long time, the scores just haven’t happened,” Recari said.
O’Toole off to fast start
The surprising rookie American captain’s pick at last fall’s Solheim Cup found her best form in another big event.
O’Toole, 25, got American captain Rosie Jones’ attention finishing ninth at the U.S. Women’s Open last year. O’Toole tied for fifth at the Safeway Classic a few weeks later and was named to the USA team.
O’Toole hasn’t been a factor in an LPGA event since, but she’s back.
She said sports psychologist Bob Rotella is helping bring out her strengths.
“His biggest thing with me is to try to get me to play in the same way I do everything else, like surfing and snowboarding, don’t hold back,” O’Toole said. “He tries to bring out the arrogant side of me.”
The 11-year veteran from Italy is seeking to make her first LPGA title a major.
Sergas, 32, playing in the day’s final pairing, birdied the 18th hole to take a share of the first-round lead. It was her sixth birdie against three bogeys for the day.
Sergas was the 1998 European Amateur champ, but as an LPGA pro her best finish was second place, back in 2004.