The games top-ranked player, a former champion and a developmental tour qualifier are one stroke behind a talented second-year LPGA player at the U.S. Womens Open, on a course that doesnt yield birdies easily.
All the while, controversy is swirling around the womens tour amid reports Thursday that LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens could be out of her job as early as next week after a faction of key players signed a letter calling for her resignation.
Leader Na Yeon Choi birdied her first three holes, and four of her first five, making the tough Saucon Valley Country Club course look tame with an opening round 3-under 68.
I know its a difficult course, but I was really excited to start my round and I thought it was going to be a very, very interesting week for me, the South Korean said through an interpreter.
It could get quite interesting considering the players chasing the 21-year-old.
No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa, 2007 champion Cristie Kerr and qualifier Jean Reynolds opened with 2-under 69s, and Hee Young Park, also of South Korea, was another stroke back after a 70.
Patience is the No. 1 thing you have to have this week, Ochoa said.
But major news about the LPGA and its players keeps intruding on the championship.
Just as Choi was completing her round, Golf Digest and Golfweek Magazine, citing sources, reported on their Web sites that Bivens four-year tenure with the tour is coming to an end.
The move comes after a call for her resignation by key players, who wrote to the LPGA board asking Bivens to step down.
Easily overlooked in the fallout of the LPGA brouhaha were solid rounds by Choi, the runner-up for rookie of the year in 2008, Ochoa, who is seeking her first Womens Open title, and Kerr, aiming for her second championship crown.
Birdies were tough to come by for nearly everyone but Choi, who has won four times in international events.
Playing in her second Open, she made Saucon Valleys narrow fairways seem wide and handled its speedy, undulating greens. Choi relied on accurate approach shots throughout and reached 5-under by her 12th hole, before backing up just a bit. Starting on the back nine, she had consecutive bogeys on the 409-yard, par-4 fifth, and 559-yard, par-5 sixth before closing with three pars.
I think being here for the second time, being on the Tour for two years now, I think I find it much more comfortable, Choi said. I now understand better about the magnitude of this U.S. Womens Open, and to be honest, I think Im much more comfortable playing on this tour and these golf courses than I do in Korea, so, you know, everything is good for me.
Ochoa started early Thursday on the back nine and offset two bogeys with two birdies on her first nine and then moved below par with consecutive birdies at Nos. 2 and 3.
The Mexican star seeking her first Womens Open was happy to take advantage of her early tee time. Her previous best start in an opening round was a ninth in 2003.
Its always hard, you have to be 100 percent at 7:30 in the morning, she said. Im just glad I beat it today, and will try to do the same tomorrow.
On the par-4 second hole, Ochoa rolled in one of the longest putts of her career ' a 50-footer that moved right, left, up and down before falling for a 3.
Kerr hit 15 greens and 10 fairways in a round of three birdies and a bogey, using her knowledge and confidence of being a former Womens Open champion on the challenging Old Course. She drained birdie putts of 15, 12 and 8 feet and shrugged off her only bogey.
Im an Open champion, I know what to expect, Kerr said. You have to take what the course gives you at a U.S. Open. You try and be aggressive when you can and most of the time you cant be.
Reynolds, a two-time winner on the Futures Tour and the leading money winner on the LPGAs developmental tour, had four birdies and two bogeys. She had a chance to take sole possession of the lead, but missed a birdie putt at the 18th.
Shes enjoying the ride.
I was pretty nervous, Reynolds said. It was a good feeling, but then again, coming in under the radar and leading at the U.S. Open after the first round is pretty awesome.
Reynolds opened with a birdie at the first and made a strong par save at the second hole after driving into a fairway bunker. She hit a 7-wood to about 45 yards and got up-and-down.
She used pinpoint accuracy with her approach shots to move into contention, hitting to within a foot at the first, 3 feet at the eighth and 8 feet on the 14th. She also got up-and-down from a greenside bunker at No. 12.
Alexis Thompson is the low amateur after a first-round 71, her finest showing in the first round after missing the cut the last two years. The 14-year-old from Coral Springs, Fla., is the reigning U.S. Girls Junior champ. In 2007, she was the youngest Womens Open qualifier in history at age 12.
Thompson is tied with LPGA Championship winner Anna Nordqvist, Candie King, Eun Hee Ji, Kristy McPherson and Young Kim.
Former champion Laura Davies, who received a special exemption that extended her streak of competing in championships to 24, opened with a 1-over 72, as did 14 others, including Paula Creamer, Christina Kim, Brittany Lincicome and three amateurs.
Defending champion Inbee Park opened with a 4-over 75, and two-time champion Juli Inkster made her 30th straight Open start and shot a 7-over 78.