Na Yeon Choi was +1 after 5 holes of birdieless golf at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, but then she returned to the form that was this close to good enough for a threepeat in Korea last week: she birdied 3 holes in a row on the front and added 3 more in a 4-hole stretch late on the back to shoot a 66 that brought her into a tie for the lead with Brittany Lang, Maria Hjorth, and Dewi Claire Schreefel at the completion of the 1st round of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.
With all the co-leaders making 6 birdies and 1 bogey each, it probably should come as no surprise that even though 18 players broke 70 and 31 shot par or better, there was only 1 bogey-free round among them, a 70 from Sun Young Yoo--unless you count 68s by Shanshan Feng (which included 2 doubles) and Christel Boeljon (which was flawless except for a double), a 69 by Sophie Gustafson (ditto except for a triple), and a 71 by Jenny Shin (just a double). And what of the hottest golfer on the planet? Ya Ni Tseng made only 1 bogey, but she could only sink 3 birdies--a solid start for a 72-hole event, but a far cry from her 10-birdie performance to kick off last week's eventual win!
There were other fairly big surprises today, as well. Michelle Wie, who's had little go right for her recently, opened with a 5-birdie 68, as did In-Kyung Kim, who's been struggling by her lofty standards of late but who over the course of her career has always seemed to finish her seasons strong. I can't say I expected 67s from Paige Mackenzie and Azahara Munoz, either! On the downside, besides Boeljon and Shin, the rest of the Class of 2011 got shellacked--sure, Caroline Hedwall held on for a 72, but Jennifer Song barely broke 75 and Tiffany Joh and Ryann O'Toole couldn't even break 80. It just goes to show how hard it is for young golfers to play well so far from home: even the relatively more experienced Anna Nordqvist shot a 79 and Vicky Hurst a 76. And being a veteran is no protection either, as Wendy Ward (77), Juli Inkster (76), Hee-Won Han (75), Karrie Webb (74), and Laura Davies (74) can attest. Heck, even coming in hot is no guarantee: just look at Christina Kim's 75, Mika Miyazato, Hee Young Park, and Chella Choi's 73s, or Ai Miyazato's 72.
The thing is, over 72 holes, everyone is going to make a good number of mistakes on such a watery course, and most everyone will make a big number here or there. The players who refuse to be sunk by their mistakes and can sink a lot of birdie putts in response will be the ones in contention over the final 9 holes. It'll be interesting to see who can keep it going and who can turn it around over the next 54 holes!
[Update 1 (10/14/11, 6:38 am): Here's bangkokbobby's take on the 1st round and notes and interviews from LPGA.com.]