At 9:15 p.m., at the end of a round that lasted nearly six hours, Gal chipped from the greenside rough over a mound to about a foot from the flag. She escaped with a skillful par and finished a shot ahead of Angela Stanford and Song-Hee Kim, who each posted a 70 earlier.
Stanford birdied the last hole from 30 feet, and Kim ' one of 29 South Koreans in the championship field ' made a birdie on No. 18 from 20 feet.
That probably ranks pretty high for me, Gal said. They were very tough conditions, but I felt I played steady and kept my ball in the fairway most of the time.
And that shot at the last was very nice. I just tried to get it as high up in the air as I could and it just landed perfect. It could not have been better.
After her late finish, the 24-year-old Gal didnt get carried away with her position.
You dont win majors in the first round but its always nice to be on top, she said. Theres a lot of golf to be played and Im looking forward to it.
Gal won four tournaments playing for the University of Florida before she graduated this year. She finished in a career-best tie for fifth at the Corning Classic in May. She had five birdies in her latest round, including the 15th and 17th holes which gave her the lead.
Stanford, who won the SPS Open in Hawaii at the start of the year, and Kim were a stroke clear of Yuko Mitsuka of Japan and Hee Young Park on a day when stiff winds on the back nine at Royal Lytham and St. Annes made scoring difficult.
Michelle Wie coped well to shoot a 1-over 73. Paula Creamer carded a 2-over 74 without a birdie.
Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa shot a 3-over 75, U.S. LPGA Tour money-leader Cristie Kerr had 76, and defending champion Jiyai Shin returned a 77.
Stanford handled the conditions superbly with an eagle and two birdies to offset two late bogeys, playing the back nine at par.
She credits her early tournament success to unusual preparation. Stanford opted to go to Rome on Sunday for two days, then returned on Wednesday in time for one practice round.
I always wanted to go to Rome, so I just decided to go. It was even better than I hoped for, she said. I was better off just playing one round because I played here in 2003 and 2006 and I know the course.
She eagled the seventh with a 242-yard 3-wood to the front of the green and a 66-foot putt.
Her first birdie came on a 10-footer at the 12th. She three-putted No. 15 and chipped poorly at No. 17 for bogeys, but rolled in a long putt to complete the round.
Kim said she scored well because she has been working on hitting the ball low for her second British Open.
With my swing, I tend to hit it high but my teacher has been helping me hit it lower, she said. I played last year at Sunningdale and missed the cut. Couldnt make a putt.
Wie believes a victory this week would help her secure a place on the U.S. Solheim Cup team to face Europe next month.
There is still a lot of golf left ahead of us. But I felt pretty proud of how I played today, she said.
Creamer admitted to a frustrating day on the greens as she shot 16 pars and two bogeys.
Not one birdie, but I had many looks. I had a lot of chances, she said.
Ochoa had a mixed day with four birdies against a double bogey and five bogeys.
I didnt putt well. I three-putted twice, she said.
Kerr, who came close to winning the U.S. Open last month, was 1 under for nine, then hit the windier, tougher back nine and double bogeyed the 10th.
I hit some bad shots in the wind and they ended up in some not-so-good spots. I kind of lost my feel for a couple holes there, she said.
Of course Im disappointed. I didnt play those holes well.