Former LPGA Tour player Nicole Materne of Spokane, Wash., fired a 5-under-par 67 to take the first-round lead. One shot back and tied for second are rookie Jan Dowling of Bradford, Ontario, and third-year Futures Tour veteran Kalen Anderson of Edina, Minn. Four players are tied for third at 69 (-3) including amateur Aree Song, formerly Wongluekiet, of Bradenton, Fla.
Materne, who teed off at 9:20 A.M., got her round going with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first hole. She followed with three others on four, seven and drained a 25-foot putt for birdie on eight, turning at 32 (-4). Materne continued her strong play on the par-5 514-yard 10th hole, two-putting from 20 feet for birdie. Her only blemish of the day was a bogey on 14, but she finished strong with her sixth birdie on 18.
'I felt great out there today,' stated Materne, who finished 10th on the 2002 Futures Tour Money List and earned an automatic bid to last years LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. 'I had a few errant shots, but overall, the round went smoothly. I took three months off this winter and coming back I feel completely refreshed and enthusiastic.'
Materne is playing in her first Futures Tour tournament since mid-July. After finishing second at the Lincoln Futures Golf Classic in Avon, Conn., Materne broke her hand in an incident unrelated to golf. At the time of her injury, she was ninth on the Tours money list with $24,999. With four tournaments left on the schedule, there was plenty opportunity for other players to steal her position in the top-10.
'Right after I broke my hand, I kept a really close eye on the money list,' mentioned Materne. 'I did some traveling with my family and was able to get my mind off of it, but it was still very hard. I was so happy when I found out that I stayed in the top-10, but I was not sure how my hand was going to be for LPGA Q-School.'
Three weeks prior to attending the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, Materne began practicing after weeks of rest.
Materne continued, 'My hand was still not healed and trying to swing the club was very painful. I just wanted to prepare myself to try to play well and get through the tournament. I was not about to miss the opportunity.'
With only two nine-hole practice rounds under her belt, Materne traveled to Q-school and missed the 54-hole cut with a three-round total of 223 (+5). Two weeks later, the doctor declared her fully healed. She played in one more tournament before taking three months off to ski, relax, and spend time with family. In February, the 29-year-old Futures Tour veteran began practicing for the upcoming season.
'I was completely immobile for 10 weeks with my injury and I was concern that my hand would never be the same,' said Materne, who recorded six top-10 finishes in 14 events last season. 'Once the doctor told me that I was fully healed, it was a complete relief. Now Im back and ready to play.'
Dowling, playing in her first official professional tournament, recorded six birdies, including four on the front nine, and two bogeys for her 68 (-4) performance. Anderson, who played in the afternoon, birdied one, three, five, seven, 10, 15, and bogeyed eight and 16.
'I was hitting the ball really well today,' said Dowling, winner of the 2000 Canadian Womens Amateur Championship. 'I spent the entire winter in Dallas working on my swing which has helped me get more distance and control on my shots. I was able to finish strong with birdies on 17 and 18. My goal is to come out each day and put myself in a position to win. This was a good start.'
Song, who was the 2001 and 2002 Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament co-medalist, had two birdies, one bogey, and an eagle on the par-5 493-yard fifth hole. Using a 3-iron, Songs second shot from 234 yards landed 25 feet from the cup and she made the putt.