Salas has Sole Lead; 21-players within 3-shots of lead
American Lizette Salas closed out her opening round with a bogey-free score of 67 — good for -5 under par and a 1-shot lead over England’s Charley Hull. By the time play concluded in the early Georgia evening, there were a total of 28 – players under par, with 21 players within 3-shots of Salas.
While the course played tough, the average score being 74.7 (+2), it was somewhat surprising to see so many players under par. Much of that can be attributed to recent rain and to the record amount of rainfall that the course has already received this year.
Several players noted that the fairways were still damp, leading to several players having to play “mud balls” from the fairways. A mud ball being a golf ball that has some damp soil or mud stuck to it. The disproportionate weight distribution, means the golf ball is prone to uncontrollable trajectories, much like a baseball player throwing a curveball or a how a bowler in cricket throws the ball with some spin on it. Hall of Fame player Inbee Park probably summed it up best regarding the inconsistencies that the mud ball introduces.
“I got probably like five, six mud balls out there, but that one mud ball really, really cost me, probably too much. I played probably almost flawless except for getting a mud ball. . . . it's just hard to hit 180-yard shots with mud balls, and you just don't know where it's going to go. Just that hole, where I made the triple, and it's just like a really good example. That probably hooked about 50 yards, and I had no idea it was going to go out there.”
Among the 21-players within 3-shots of Lizette Salas are four major champions — Jeongeun Lee6 at -3 under and In Gee Chun, Ariya Jutanugarn and Patty Tavatanakit all at -2 under par. While there are 6-players at -3 under, including the aforementioned Jeongeun Lee6, and another 13-players at -2 under, only Charley Hull could manage to reach -4 under, posting a score of 68 and one of her best rounds to ever open a major championship.
Starting on the 10th hole in the afternoon wave, Hull managed a birdie on her opening hole before giving it back two holes later when she bogeyed the par 5, 12th hole. She settled down her play, going -2 under over the next 8-holes, before she gave another shot back on the par 4, 3rd hole. She would go on to birdie three more holes to close out her second nine with a score of 33 (-3 under).
Hull has always been known for her swing; going hard at the ball and leaving nothing behind in her efforts and it showed as she found 3-bunkers managing to save par twice. Where she really shone today was with the putter in hand, taking only 27 strokes on the greens, and an astounding 1.54 putts per “Green in Regulation” or (GIR).
Hull is off in the morning round on Friday, starting at the 1st hole with a tee time of 8:05 a.m. Lizette Salas tees off in the afternoon wave, starting on the first tee at 1:49 p.m. local time.
US Women’s Open Champion and other Philippine Players
The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Yuka Saso, started in the morning round of players. After a somewhat frustrating round, Saso carded a score of 73 (+1 over), recording 4-birdies against 3-bogeys and a double bogey on the par 4, 10th hole. Her ball striking was respectable, hitting 10 of 14 Fairways off the tee box, and 13 of 18 Greens in Regulation. Of her 5 missed greens, 4 of them found greenside bunkers, but she managed to save par on 3 out of the 4. Unfortunately for Saso, her putting was a little off as she recorded a pair of 3-putts with a total of 32 putts on the round.
Bianca Pagdanganan made her first big splash on the LPGA at this event held at Aronimink last season. Then she had a rough start to her tournament before turning it around with back to back 65’s enroute to a share of 9th place. Today, Bianca started on the first tee box, making 4-consecutive pars before she opened her account with a birdie on the 502-yard, par-5, 5th hole. She dropped a stroke three holes later, bogeying the par-4, 8th hole to go out in an even par of 36.
It was on the second nine where she ran into some trouble, starting with a bogey on the 10th hole, a double bogey on the 13th hole, a 374-yard, par-4. Then, she recorded another bogey on the 15th hole, a long 196-yard par-3. She finished her day at 76, +4 over on the round. Her ball striking was solid today, as she hit 11 of 14 fairways from the tee box with a driving average of 281 yards on the day. She also hit 13 of 18 Greens in Regulation which gave her some looks at birdies.
Unfortunately, her putting was her Achilles heel today, as she recorded 34 putts on the day and an average of 2.00 putts per GIR, with one-three putt.
It may not have been the start that she wanted, but with an anticipated cut-line of +2, she does not have too much to make up. With a solid round tomorrow she should get into the weekend where hopefully she can mount a bit of a charge to climb the leaderboard, gaining valuable CME and Rolex Ranking points.
While most of the eyes were on both Yuka and Bianca, it was the third player, veteran Dottie Ardina that emerged, making the front page of the leaderboard a few times today, before she settled for a -2 under score of 70 and the top placed Filipina player. Starting on the 10th tee in the morning wave, Ardina played steady golf throughout her round. On her first set of nine, she went out in 35, 1-stroke under par. On her second nine, she practically duplicated her round, finishing with another 35 to finish at 70.
Dottie Ardina, the 27-year old veteran, whose rookie year on the LPGA came in 2014, plays a different game from her two younger compatriots. Given that she is fairly short off the tee box compared to both Yuka and Bianca, Dottie’s game is built around the greens, combining a very good short game with above average putting. That proved to be the case for her today, as she found three greenside bunkers, but managed to still make par on all three occasions. As for her performance on the greens, she needed only 27 putts for the day with a corresponding 1.73 putts per GIR. It was that solid play at the “business end” which enabled her to post her -2 under score, only 3-shots back of the leader.
A player cannot win a tournament on Thursday, but they can play themselves out of it. While there is still plenty of golf left, the priority for Ardina is to come out and play another solid round on Friday to stay within striking distance of the leaders. As for both Yuka and Bianca, focusing on playing one shot at a time, one hole at a time should serve them well as they both look to move up the leaderboard.