Friday, July 22, 2011

Evian Masters Thursday: Hjorth, Stupples, Shin-Ae Ahn Lead with Soggy 67s

A day of couldabeens and comebacks in the 1st round of the Evian Masters was epitomized by 2 European veterans with the talent to have won much more often than they have in their stellar careers. Maria Hjorth and Karen Stupples joined KLPGA star Shin-Ae Ahn with matching 67s, but little else matched in their rounds. Playing in horrid weather for the vast majority of the day, Hjorth posted the classic couldabeen round after making 8 birdies in 1st 14 holes, while Stupples enjoyed one of the best comebacks of the day with a bogey-free 30 on the back after suffering a double bogey on the par-5 9th. As bangkokbobby notes in his photo- and video-rich 1st-round recap, Hjorth bogeyed her last 3 holes while Stupples birdied them. Ahn, by the way, couldn't quite finish with 3 birdies in a row, but she birdied 3 of her last 4 and 4 of her last 8 to post a Stupples-like 67.

After Nadeshiko Japan's numerous comebacks on their way to their stirring Women's World Cup victory, Ai Miyazato may have been especially motivated to bounce back from her early double bogey on the par-4 5th. Much like Stupples, Ai-sama birdied 5 of her last 10 holes and ended up hitting 11 fairways and 15 greens in regulation on her way to a 68 that puts her only 1 shot behind the co-leaders. Her countrywoman Miki Saiki was more Hjorthesque, however, as she birdied 8 of her 1st 15 holes but sprinkled in 3 bogeys over her last 6, including 2 of her last 3, to settle for a 68 of her own. 23-year-old Ritsuko Ryu had a little bit of both her sempai's rounds: she birdied 6 holes between the 8th and 16th but had to endure a walkoff bogey.

It was pretty much the same for the top Americans in the field, as well. Like Shanshan Feng, Brittany Lincicome birdied 3 of her last 6 holes to join the Japanese contingent at -4 (actually, Feng birdied 3 of her last 4 on a day she hit 13 fairways and 16 greens!). On the Hjorth side of the ledger, Stacy Lewis had a little more good weather at the end of her round than the co-leaders, but she squandered a 6-under-par bogey-free run through her 1st 14 holes with a double on the par-5 16th and a bogey on the par-5 18th (just in time for the Golf Channel coverage). 1 shot better was Cristie Kerr, who sprinkled a couple of bogeys into her 6-birdie 68.

Ditto for the international contingent who joined Lewis at -3. Eun-Hee Ji eagled the par-4 16th and just missed a hole-in-one on 17 and a birdie on 18. Meanwhile, defending champion Ji-Yai Shin birdied 2 of her last 4 holes, while dual LPGA/JLPGA member Inbee Park and KLPGA standout Ran Hong birdied 3 of their last 5. But Ya Ni Tseng couldn't follow up on her eagle on the par-5 7th and birdie on the par-5 9th; although she didn't make a bogey all day, she had to have felt that with 12 fairways and 15 greens she left a lot of shots out on the course on Thursday. By contrast, the LET's Virginie Lagoutte-Clement bounced back from 3 bogeys in her 1st 4 holes with 6 in her last 12 (including all 4 par 5s).

Of course, not everyone broke 70. In fact, some didn't even break 75, among them Vicky Hurst and Amanda Blumenherst at 78, Anna Nordqvist at 77, Sun-Ju Ahn, Lee-Anne Pace, Michelle Wie, Laura Davies, and Kristy McPherson at 76, and Americans Juli Inkster, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, Mindy Kim, and Jennifer Song, nihonjin Yukari Baba, Rui Kitada, Hiromi Mogi, Kumiko Kaneda, and Harukyo Nomura, and Europeans Beatriz Recari, Ashleigh Simon, and Trish Johnson, all at 75. They'll need to go low today just to make the cut, while In-Kyung Kim (74), Suzann Pettersen, Amy Yang, Sun Young Yoo, and Caroline Hedwall (73), Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Melissa Reid, Azahara Munoz, Seon Hwa Lee, and Jee Young Lee (72) will need to get it in gear to be within shouting distance of the leaders heading into the weekend. There are opportunities for Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Yuri Fudoh, Sophie Gustafson, Catriona Matthew, Morgan Pressel, Mika Miyazato, and Hee Young Park at -1, along with Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Sandra Gal, Natalie Gulbis, and Lexi Thompson at -2, to put their names in the mix on Sunday if they can go low today and/or tomorrow, but they can't count on the longer-than-usual-playing course and faster-than-ever greens to bring all the leaders back to them.

I'll avoid spoilers on today's round until after the Golf Channel coverage, so for now check out's notes and interviews from the 1st round. I can't believe how apparently nobody in the European press has asked a Japanese golfer about Nadeshiko Japan yet!

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