But two players stole the afternoon thunder, eclipsing the home-state leader following a storm delay that lasted from 4:48 p.m. to 6:24 p.m. City girl Lisa Chang of Los Angeles grabbed the lead just before sundown with a 5-under-par 67 on the par-72 Stratton Mountain Country Club course. Sung Ah Yim, a 20-year-old rookie from Seoul, Korea posted a 69 (-3) to slide into second place.
'I just took advantage of hitting it close today,' said Chang, 24, of Pepperdine University, playing in her second full season as a pro on the Futures Tour. 'I gave myself good distances into the greens and played strategically.'
Chang, whose best tournament finish is a tie for fifth in this year's tournament in El Paso, Texas, is still looking for her first win on the Futures Tour. She inched closer to that goal in today's first round with 27 putts and a bogey-free round that included five birdies.
'I've been working with [teaching pro] Leith Wastle and he's helped me figure out the difference between quality versus quantity,' said Chang, of the Australian swing coach who works with at least five Futures Tour players. 'A lot of the stuff he says is very intuitive. I used to practice too much.'
Yim, a member of the 2002 Korean National Team that won a gold medal in the Asian Games, intuitively battled back from her first nine holes that included four bogeys and three birdies. By the time she reached her second nine, she added four more birdies to take the lead, becoming the first player in the 144-player field to card a round in the 60s on the hilly and wet 6,212-yard course.
'This course is like Korea -- really up and down,' said Yim, who missed hitting her driver out of bounds by inches on the 13th tee. 'I was lucky there.'
Joining Horton at 2-under-par 70 was: Kyeong Bae of Seoul, Korea; Allison Fouch of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kristy McPherson of Conway, S.C.; Malinda Johnson of Eau Claire, Wis.; Katie Connelly of Beloit, Wis.; Kris Tamulis of Naples, Fla.; Jimin Kang of Seoul, Korea; Melanie Holmes-Smith of Melbourne, Australia; Marie-Josee Rouleau of St. Lambert, Quebec; and Caroline Goasguen of Montpellier, France.
Nineteen players tied at 1-under 71 in the 54-hole event. In all, 32 players finished under par in the rain-halted opening round on the course that hosted the McCall's LPGA Classic from 1990-1995.
Making her pro debut was Erica Blasberg of Corona, Calif., who announced at last week's U.S. Women's Open that she would turn professional the following week. Blasberg, who plans to spend the rest of the summer playing as a professional on the Futures Tour, opened with a four-over-par 76 in her pro debut.
'It would be great to play well in these eight events and to have a chance to get into the top five, but I'm not adding pressure on myself,' said Blasberg, 19, who left the University of Arizona after two years. 'I'm out here trying to get ready for my next step -- LPGA Qualifying School.'
Blasberg bogeyed her first three holes with three consecutive three-putt greens and went bunker-to-bunker for a double-bogey on No. 16, her seventh hole.
'I want to do a little better than I did,' said Blasberg, who carried her own bag on the hilly golf course.
But while Horton has some work remaining to catch up with pacesetter Chang, she was a pleased and laid-back Vermonter quietly celebrating her 27th birthday in the Tour's return to her home state. The Futures Tour's inaugural tournament at Stratton Mountain, following a one-year hiatus from the Tour's previous event in Killington, Vt., had Horton's imagination whirling and her stomach grinding with excitement.
You can just about guess what she wished for today when she blew out the candles on her cake.