Castrale hopes to break slump at LPGA Championship


McDonalds LPGAHAVRE DE GRACE, Md. ' Nicole Castrale wont deny what the numbers clearly indicate: Her golf game has suffered since 2007, when she won her only tournament on the LPGA Tour and took home more than $850,000.
Fortunately for Castrale, shes got a job she loves. It helps that she gets to work with her husband Craig, who has been her caddie for the past six years.
So, after Castrale shot a 7-under 65 Thursday to take the first-round lead in the LPGA Championship, she wasnt about to claim she had all of a sudden righted her game. Instead, Castrale merely held out hope that her effort to improve was finally paying off.
Its tough when you struggle, she said. I may have regressed a little bit, but Ive learned to grind the last year and a half, because I havent had it. Its golf. Its a game. It isnt perfect. So all I can do is do my best.
Her best was better than anyone else after 18 holes in the Tours second major tournament of the season. Castrale birdied six of the first nine holes to take a one-shot lead over rookie Anna Nordqvist.
Shanshan Feng of China was in third at 67. Feng made her only bogey on No. 13, and moved up the leaderboard with successive birdies on 15 and 16.
Castrales 6-under 30 was the lowest on the front nine at the Bulle Rock Course since the tournament moved from DuPont Country Club in 2005. Taking advantage of a wet course that rendered the greens slow and true, Castrale played virtually flawless golf until a drive into the rough on 18 led to her only bogey of the day.
The last time Castrale had a record-setting round at Bulle Rock was in 2006, when she opened with a career-low 64. No one in tournament history shot that before at Bulle Rock, and no one has done it since.
But Castrale followed that with a 75 on Friday, then stepped in a drain after leaving the fitness trailer that night. She sprained her left ankle and ended up tied for 34th.
I walked home with my shoe in my hand and an ice bag, she recalled. I had it taped for two or three months.
Lesson learned.
Ive walked by that drain the past three years, and now you cant get to it because the tents are on it. So thats a good thing, Castrale said.
She rebounded to have a fine 2007 season, but last year she finished in the top-10 six times in 21 tournaments.
Last year, if thats my bad year, then Ill take it, said Castrale, who totaled $540,644 in 2008.
This year, however, Castrale failed to do better than 15th in her first nine outings ' twice missing the cut. Still, she brings a smile to the course before every round.
Were very blessed for this to be our job, especially the way things are now, she said. All we can do is be thankful.
Nordqvist turned 22 on Wednesday and is playing in her fourth professional tournament. Thats not the only reason why her 66 was so surprising; she also had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. for a 7:15 tee time.
Showing absolutely no signs of nervousness in her first major, Nordqvist started with a par, then birdied Nos. 2 and 5 before a shot into the bunker on 6 produced her lone bogey of the day.
Birdies putts of 3, 5 and 18 feet followed, enabling the Swede to make the turn at 4 under. Nordqvist said she lost momentum at that point because of slow play ahead of her, but long birdie puts on 14 and 17 and a solid par on 18 completed her best round as a pro.
Obviously, this is where you want to be, she said, relishing the clubhouse lead. Im a rookie and havent played that much this year, but Im here to learn and have fun. There are three more days, and I really look forward to it.
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