Teenager Seon-Hwa Lee of Chonan, Korea took the early first-round lead at 6-under-par 66 at Cleveland Heights Golf Course. By afternoon, two other players ' Carrie Wood of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Nicole Dalkas of Palm Desert, Calif. ' had also carded 66s for a share of the lead.
'This is a great start but its just one round,' said Wood, a non-exempt member of the LPGA Tour who played in the late afternoon. 'I didnt expect a lot or hit the ball that well off the tee, but I made the putts I needed to make.'
To be exact, Wood made 25 putts and posted a bogey-free, six-birdie round. The eighth-year pro is still looking for her first professional win.
Lee, 18, missed one fairway and one green and carded seven birdies and one bogey en route to taking the lead in the morning wave of tee times. The rookies only bogey came on the 13th green when she missed the green and failed to get up and down for par. She credited her play with experience she gained on the Korean LPGA Tour, where she has won twice and was ranked No. 3 on the 2003 money list.
'Playing here is good experience because Ive never played in the United States other than at the FUTURES Tour Qualifying Tournament last fall,' said Lee, through an interpreter. 'Im still 18. Theres no rush. I want to get one of the five LPGA Tour cards [awarded to the top five money winners at the end of the year].'
Dalkas, a fourth-year pro, also raced the setting sun with her late-afternoon 66. Her short professional career has included two rotator-cuff surgeries on her right shoulder, a one-stroke miss at last years LPGA Qualifying Tournament and more LPGA Monday qualifiers in 2003 than she cares to remember. The former LPGA Tour members goal is to regain her full LPGA status, which she hopes to earn by playing full-time on the FUTURES Tour this season.
'Its only going to teach me how to win playing out here this year,' said Dalkas, 24, who recorded seven birdies and one bogey in her opening round.
Naree Song of Seoul, Korea, got off to a slow start in her professional debut. The prodigy from the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., shot a 3-over-par 75 in her opening round with bogeys on her first three holes. At 17, she is the youngest player on the Tour this season.
'It was a little stressful,' said Song, whose twin sister Aree Song is playing on the LPGA Tour. 'I kind of went cold, but I got it back. I just didnt adjust quickly enough.'
Cleveland Heights, a municipal course, was one of three host courses for last years Qualifying Tournament. But the rain-soaked course last November bore little resemblance to the sun-soaked, quick-rolling greens of todays opening round at the 6,230-yard, par-72 layout. Still, it was a scoring course and birdies were abundant.
Yvonne Cox of Charleston, W.Va., Aram Cho of Seoul, Korea, and Heather Stirling of Stirling, Scotland, all posted 5-under-par rounds of 67.
'This was definitely a confidence booster,' said fourth-year FUTURES Tour member Cox, 26, who took off the last four months to work in golf retail. 'I came into this week with no expectations. The time off from golf was good because it made me hungry when I came back out here.'
Rookie Libby Smith of Essex Junction, Vt., and veteran pro Michele Fuller of Jupiter, Fla., each carded rounds of 68. Amateur Brittany Lincicome of Seminole, Fla., fired a 2-under-par 70.
Perhaps the days most tenacious player was rookie Seul Ki Kim of Incheon, Korea, who arrived at the course at noon for a 12:40 PM tee time after an all-night flight from Korea. Kim ran into U.S. work-visa problems. The visa arrived five days later than expected and the player left Korea Thursday afternoon for Los Angeles, then departed L.A. at 10 PM Thursday to arrive in Tampa at 5:10 AM today. After the drive to Lakeland and some unpacking, refreshing and a couple of winks of sleep, Kim yawned her way to a 1-under-par 71.
'Im very glad the first round is over,' she said through her interpreter. 'I was almost sleeping on the golf course, but Im satisfied.'
Sue Ginter-Brooker of Appleton, Wis., who won the Lakeland event two years ago, is playing seven months pregnant. She shot a 1-over-par 73.
Courtney Swaim of Duluth, Ga., also made the most of her round after her putter broke with six holes to play. The epoxy fell out of her putter shaft, causing the clubhead to spin, so Swaim putted on the next hole with her 7-wood. She putted her last five holes with her pitching wedge, making a four-footer for birdie on one of the holes. 'I wont use the pitching wedge on Saturday unless I start putting bad,' she said.
Saturdays second round will begin at 7:20 AM, off the first and 10th tees. The leaders will tee off at 1:50 PM.