Gal leads Titleholders after opening 64


After a sizzling start to her opening round, Sandra Gal finds her name atop the leaderboard at the LPGA’s final event of 2013. Here’s how things shape up heading into the second round of the CME Group Titleholders, where the German leads by one shot:

Leaderboard: Sandra Gal (-8), Rebecca Lee-Bentham (-7), Lexi Thompson (-6), Anna Nordqvist (-6), , Shanshan Feng (-6), Sandra Changkija (-5)

What it means: Gal quickly surged ahead by opening her round Thursday at Tiburon with six straight birdies. Though she cooled from there, the 28-year-old closed the day with birdies on three of her final four holes to finish with sole possession of the lead after an 8-under 64. A strong group of contenders remain close behind, though, including Nordqvist, who starred at the Solheim Cup this summer, and Thompson, who won just four days ago.

Round of the day: Beginning on the 10th hole, Gal didn’t make anything other than birdie until leaving the 16th green with a par. Her round included nine red figures against just a single dropped shot, as she needed just 26 putts to complete her round despite reaching 16 of 18 greens in regulation.

Best of the rest: Unlike Gal, Lee-Bentham was slow out of the gates Thursday, playing her first three holes in 1 over. From there, though, the Canadian caught fire, notching birdies on seven of her final 10 holes. With birdies on each of her final two holes, Lee-Bentham moved into sole possession of second place and positioned herself for what could be her first top-10 finish of 2013.

Biggest disappointment: With an opportunity to move to No. 1 in the world with a win this week, Suzann Pettersen made a double bogey on her opening hole Thursday at Tiburon and failed to get on track after that. The reigning Evian champion carded just three birdies during her round of even-par 72, and as a result sits eight shots off the pace with all realistic hopes of surpassing Inbee Park atop the rankings this week likely gone.

Main storyline heading into Friday: All eyes will be on Gal as she looks to back up her opening 64, but the larger storyline may be Thompson, who sits just two shots off the pace. Already with a pair of wins in recent weeks, the teen phenom is in position to create a significant amount of momentum heading into the 2014 season with another high finish this week in Naples. Much of the focus Friday will also be on another teen, 16-year-old Lydia Ko, who bounced back from a slow start to card a 1-under 71 in her first round as a professional.