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European trio leads Mission Hills World Ladies Championship in China
Amid one of the strongest women’s golf fields ever assembled in China, three Ladies European Tour players lead the way on the opening day of the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills Resort Haikou.
Sweden’s Linda Wessberg, Gwladys Nocera of France and Sophie Walker of England, all out in the morning, posted rounds of five under par 67 on the challenging Sandbelt Trails Course in warm and slightly breezy conditions.
They led by one over World No.4 Inbee Park, Valentine Derrey, Rungthiwa Pangjan, Bo-Mi Suh and hot young amateur Hyo-Joo Kim of Korea.
Norwegian World No.8 Suzann Pettersen found no favours on the greens but still managed a ‘decent’ two-under par 70 to share 15th place with last year’s winner Shanshan Feng of China and seven others, including Laura Davies, who eagled the 300-yard par-four third hole.
All three of the leaders were bogey-free, with Walker and Wessberg firing five birdies each. Nocera, the European No.1 in 2008, when she won five titles on the LET, mixed three birdies with an eagle on the 462-yard par-five 18th hole. She picked up three shots in her final two holes, having birdied the par-four 17th.
“There are days when you finish with a bad hole the frustration gets to you but of course when you finish like that it is even better,” Nocera said.
“I missed a couple of short putts on the front nine for birdies but I made some good ones to get some pars and then I finished with a good birdie on the 17th and a long putt, like a 15 metre putt on 18, to make it an eagle. I am pretty happy with the way I am hitting the ball, so it’s good.”
Walker recognised that avoiding mistakes on the greens was of paramount importance.
“The greens are very difficult and we don’t normally have greens like this in Europe, so they take a bit of getting used to. They are very undulating so that’s why it’s key not to have a three-putt.
“Today’s round was pretty impressive. If I can do that again then I’m sure I’ll be close but I’ll take every round as it comes and try and eliminate the mistakes.”
Wessberg is one of the longer hitters on the LET and was pleased with her accuracy.
“I was actually putting myself in very good positions off the tee, so it was pretty handy to attack the pins,” Wessberg said. “I hit some really good shots that I didn’t really get rewarded for because I pitched it too close to the pin. I also putted really well, so it was a pretty easy day.”
Most interest centred on Park, who was paired in a glamour group with Pettersen and World No.5 Feng. Although the recent Honda LPGA Thailand champion went out in three under par, with two birdies against an eagle on the eighth hole, she came back in level par mixing a bogey on 15 with a birdie on 18.
She said that she would play for more break on the greens in the next three rounds of the championship. “I hit the ball very good today which I was very happy with. I knew that the greens were going to be tricky this week and I had a tough time putting today but hopefully better days in the next three days. I’m just getting used the greens a little bit more and I’ll be fine,” said Park.
“I knew after the practice round that the putting was going to be the toughest challenge this week. Obviously today I hit a lot of putts that were looking like they were going to go in but it just breaks a lot with the green. So I just learned that I have to play a little bit more break.”
Feng opened with a birdie but was one over after dropping shots at the fourth and sixth holes. She recovered well by picking up shots on eight, 11 and 13.
Pettersen made a storming start and birdied the first three holes but dropped shots at the fifth and 14th before finishing with a birdie on 15.
Pettersen, with 15 wins around the world, said: “It was decent but nothing special really: 2 under. I didn’t really take advantage of any of the par 5s which is disappointing. I hit some good putts and then had a few chances but got an average score on an average day.
“It’s a nice course. The wind makes it just a little bit more challenging to attack some of the pins but it’s in good shape.”
Hyo- Joo Kim, 17, is part of the generation of teenage stars competing on the professional circuits and will be one to monitor in Haikou.
She tied for fourth at last year’s Evian Masters in France alongside Shanshan Feng and Natalie Gulbis and was the youngest player to win on the LPGA of Japan Tour last May at the Suntori Ladies Open, before winning the Honda China Ladies Open on the CLPGA Tour in December.
Fellow 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn, who finished as the runner-up to Park in her native Thailand a fortnight ago, opened with a three under 69 to share ninth spot with five other players.
The Korean pair of Inbee Park and Ha Neul Kim leads the 72-hole strokeplay team competition running concurrently, with a combined aggregate score of 137, seven under par, followed by French pair Gwladys Nocera and Anne-Lise Caudal two strokes back and then English duo Laura Davies and Trish Johnson on 140.
There is a cut for the top 50 professionals and ties after tomorrow’s second round to contest the final two rounds of the individual stroke play tournament, while any players in the team competition who miss the cut will also be required to play over the weekend.
For more information on World Ladies Championship see: http://wlc.missionhillschina.com/index_en.html
To follow and vote for the Best Dressed Player Award see: http://wlc.missionhillschina.com/bestdress
18. February 95
Photography: Getty Images