Rookie Felibert leads Walmart NW Arkansas event after career-best round

Veronica Felibert at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
Getty Images
By
Kurt Voigt
Associated Press

Series: LPGA Tour

Published: Friday, June 29, 2012 | 9:45 p.m.

ROGERS, Ark. -- Veronica Felibert left the LPGA Tour event in Canada on Sunday with the intention of trying to qualify Monday for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

The rookie from Venezuela and second alternate later found out she had made the field without needing to qualify.

WALMART NW ARKANSAS CHAMPIONSHIP

Yani Tseng won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in both 2010 and 2011.

Felibert made the most of her opportunity Friday, shooting a career-best 6-under 65 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club. The former Southern California player had seven birdies and needed only 27 putts.

The round is Felibert's best in five official LPGA Tour starts this season, topping her previous best of 71 in the second round of the Mobile Bay Classic in April. She entered this week No. 723 in the world rankings.

"I'm enjoying it," Felibert said. "It's like a dream to be on top all the time. It's my rookie season, and I was trying to just play the best I could and that's what I'm doing. And as long as I'm enjoying it, I'll be happy."

China's Shanshan Feng, the Wegmans LPGA Championship winner this month, was a stroke back and also needed only 27 putts. Feng was tied for the lead at 6 under entering the par-5 18th and reached the fringe in two shots, but a poor chip led to a three-putt and a 5-under 66.

"I would say my chipping has been not very consistent recently, and I haven't got a lot of chance to practice," Feng said. "I would say that one, the green was a little softer than I thought, a little slower going up the hill, and I just didn't give it enough and then it came back."

Top-ranked Yani Tseng, the two-time defending champion and a three-time winner this year, opened with a 2-over 73, her fifth straight round over par. No. 2 Stacy Lewis, the former University of Arkansas star who has won twice this year, had a 70.

Felibert was among the early starters, completing much of her round before temperatures soared into triple digits. The Venezuelan teed off on the back nine and started quickly, with four birdies in her first seven holes -- offsetting her only bogey on the par-4 13th, which played as the toughest hole on the course.

She followed that with a near flawless front nine, making birdies on Nos. 2, 4 and 5. Felibert nearly reached 7 under, but her 15-foot birdie putt on No. 9 -- her final hole of the day -- just missed to the left.

"I have been working really hard on my putter," Felibert said. "I just switched a week ago, so this will be my second week with the new putter. I'm feeling pretty confident, and I would say that's what made the difference."

Felibert played on the second-tier Symetra Tour the last two seasons, also competing in the U.S. Women's Open in 2010. In her four previous official LPGA Tour events this season, she only made the cut in Mobile -- where she tied for 70th and won $2,489.

Felibert found out Sunday evening that she had made the 144-player field this week as an alternate thanks to her 144th spot on the priority list -- only after the tour's Hall of Fame player exemptions weren't used. She hit 12 of 13 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation on Friday and said her experiences in college and on the Symetra Tour have prepared her to stay near the top on the weekend.

"Maybe I haven't been in this situation yet on the LPGA, but I've played a few good tournaments last year," Felibert said. "I'm kind of familiar, it's not like I'm all of the sudden in this position."

Karine Icher, Inbee Park and Mi Jung Hur were two strokes back at 67.

Michelle Wie's season-long struggles continued Thursday with a 1-over 72. Wie has broken par only three times in 22 rounds this year and has made only one cut.

Juli Inkster, making her return to the tour after elbow surgery in January, shot a 7-over 78.