Hey la, hey la, Lorena Ochoa fired a 30 on the back 9 to take the first-round lead at the Evian Masters with a bogey-free 65. And guess what? She only birdied 1 of 4 par 5s. She had a chance for a 29 on the back but couldn't get her 7th birdie of the side on the par-5 18th hole. Angela Park did birdie the 18th for a 31, which tied her with Candie Kung and struggling KLPGA star Sun-Ju Ahn, who birdied her final 3 holes for a 66. Behind these leaders were 5 67s, 3 68s, and 7 69s.
So who's going to make the most trouble for the world #1 the rest of this tournament? Let's answer that question by surveying the surprises and disappointments of the first round.
Biggest Surprises: Linda Wessberg eagled the last hole for a great 69, much closer to the quality of her intermittent LPGA play in 2007 than that of the LPGA regular who's missed 6 cuts and posted 1 top 10 and no top 20s in 15 events this season. Defending champion Natalie Gulbis shot a fine 69 in the 1st leg of her quest to stage a 2nd-half comeback in 2008 as impressive as her conclusion to the 2007 season. Pretty good for a player who missed the cut in 3 of her last 5 events and who finished T48 and T49 when she made it. Juli Inkster has only played in 3 of the 9 LPGA events heading into this one--missing the cut twice and, like Gulbis, posting her only decent finish in the last couple of months, a T14, at the Ginn Tribute--so her 67 today may be even more surprising, even if she is a former champion here. But then again Laura Diaz has been playing more events with more futility since her hot start in the early spring, so probably it's her 67 that's the biggest surprise. (While Suzann Pettersen's great play of late makes her 67 no huge surprise, her history of struggles at this course make it enough of one to mention here, particularly when she bounced back from a double bogey on the par-4 14th with 4 straight closing birdies.)
Biggest Disappointments: The biggest ones are shared 74s by Jeong Jang and Ai Miyazato, the latter thanks to a 41 on the back that included a triple bogey on the par-4 12th hole which brought her back to E on the day and the former courtesy of 3 bogeys on the 1st 5 holes of the back 9. I thought Jang's extended layoff to rest her injured wrist and the momentum from Ai-chan's fine play over the last month or so would have done them each more good. But matching 74s by Jane Park and Sun Young Yoo are definitely in the running here.
Smaller Surprises: I didn't expect recent 1st-time winners Inbee Park (69), Ji Young Oh (70), and Eun-Hee Ji (71) to play as well as they did today, what with all the distractions that come with your 1st win. Nor did I expect Meena Lee (67), Angela Stanford (67), In-Kyung Kim (68), and Shi Hyun Ahn (69) to pick up where they left off in their rather rare recent great rounds and good tournaments, either.
Smaller Disappointments: 73s by Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth and 72s by Karrie Webb, Ji-Yai Shin, and Hee-Won Han, all of which could have been much worse, were indifferent starts from players who still can be expected to contend this week.
If Ochoa can do what Paula Creamer (70) and Ya Ni Tseng (70) failed to do the last 2 weeks--shoot 4 straight sub-70 rounds--then the pressure is on the 71 players who failed to break 70 today to match her mid-60s round today at least once. For the 18 others who did score in the 60s, their trouble will come from trying to keep pace with Ochoa. Same goes for the 28 players within 5 shots of Ochoa's lead after the 1st round. Those near the possible cut line of +1 to +5 will be facing a different kind of pressure tomorrow. Should be interesting to see how everyone responds to these varieties of pressure--and whether anyone can turn the tables and put pressure on Ochoa!
[Update 1 (4:44 pm): Here's Hound Dog's 1st-round recap. Ryan Ballengee welcomes Ochoa back. And nobody took the "over" over at Waggle Room.]