Defending champ struggles in opening round

Four past champs have fine first rounds
Jun. 19, 2014 @ 08:40 PM

Donald Ross, designer of Pinehurst No. 2, said a true championship golf course should "present competitors with a variety of problems that will test every type of shot which a golfer of championship ability should be qualified to play."

Former U.S. Women's Open champions have already proven to the golf world they are of "championship ability." Said status didn't automatically make Thursday's first round go well for all past champs.

"Just a combination of everything," said defending champion Inbee Park shortly after she shot an opening 6-over-par 76.

Park is nine shots behind leader Stacy Lewis going into Friday, which quickly becomes equally about surviving to rounds three and four for Park than about advancing up the leaderboard.

"But on this golf course, you make a couple mistakes, you can easily shoot a high number. Definitely don't want to do that (today)."

Park wasn't the only past champion to struggle in the first round.

Se Ri Pak, the 1998 Open champion, made a double-bogey six on No. 3, shot a 39 on the front nine and finished with a 6-over 76.

Birdie Kim, the 2005 Open champion, made seven bogeys plus a double-bogey six on the eighth hole adding up to a 79.

"It was so quick and I just don't know what happened," Park said.

"I was just really shocked how the golf course was playing and how, I didn't feel like I played horrible, but the score is bad. So it's so easy to make a lot of big numbers here," she said.

Four past champions shot 71 or better. Juli Inkster (1999, 2002) shot 71. Karrie Webb (2000 and 2001 - at Pine Needles Golf Club) and Paula Creamer (2010) shot 70s. So Yeon Ryu (2011) shot 1-under 69.

Ryu said she was nervous from the start and all the way around the course this morning. She still tallied 13 pars and three birdies - with consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 moving her to 2-under for two holes.

"I didn't really calm down. I was still nervous the whole 18. I know I should find the reason, but I didn't really calm down," she said.

Nerves, or some missed birdie putts, left Ryu feeling a better score is possible, but happy with an under-par score on a day which ended with only five red numbers in the field.

There was an unexpected addition to No. 2's difficulty as well.

"I think the last three days, the wind wasn't really going. (Gusty) wind makes it a bit hard. Wind sometimes blowing and stop, blowing and stop, so it's really hard to choose a club," said Ryu.

Inkster, at age 53 and in her championship-record 35th consecutive Women's Open, said Wednesday this will be her last U.S. Women's Open.

Through 18 holes, she's doing all she can to go out a contender.

"I mean, it would be nice," Inkster said. "But I don't think it's important, I'm really, I'm okay with the decision."

Finale or not, she finds Pinehurst suits her game, yet is only going to play more difficult today, Saturday and Sunday.

"I like this golf course, because I think it weeds a lot of players out. This is my type of golf course. If I keep playing the way I'm playing, I think - Stacy (Lewis) is playing unbelievable. So I don't know if anybody can catch her. But I feel like I can have a good tournament," Inkster said.

Inkster is grouped with two of the more popular young LPGA pros - Natalie Gulbis and Cheyenne Woods - for the first two rounds. Gulbis shot 79 and Woods shot 78 in the first round.

"I don't know if they enjoy playing with an old lady," Inkster said. "But I really have. I enjoy it. I think that's the beauty of golf. I can still come out there and compete with them, no matter what age we're at."

Webb said No. 2 reminds here of her home courses in Melbourne, Australia - which treated her well in round one.

"I did have good feelings here. I came a couple of weeks ago ahead of, before the men played, and I loved it as soon as I was here," Webb said.

"It does really remind me of Sand Belt golf in Melbourne, where you don't always have a perfect lie, even in the fairway. And you have to be creative around the greens."

Aggression has to be relative here, Webb said.

"So it's a hard course to play too aggressive. You're happy if you hit it to the center of the green pin-high and have a 20-footer most of the time," she said.

Park said she's changing her thoughts around the course for today.

""My plan will be making less bogeys tomorrow and trying to just stay out of trouble," she said. "Not so much about the trophy now anymore, just trying to keep it in play."