Lotta Wahlin of Sweden made seven birdies for a 6-under 66 Wednesday to take a one-shot lead over Becky Brewerton after the first round of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, the season-ending event on the Ladies European Tour.
The 28-year-old Wahlin, whose career was disrupted in 2009 when she was diagnosed with skin cancer, made a 26-foot birdie putt on the 18th for the lead to go along with six other birdies and one bogey. She is two shots ahead of four other golfers and four shots ahead of Alexis Thompson (70), the 16-year-old American who is the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour.
Thompson recovered from a slow start to make three birdies on her final three holes. The teenager came into the tournament as one of the favorites, having won the Navistar LPGA Classic in September.
“I struggled with my putter until the 16th hole,” Thompson said. “Then I figured some things out so it went well for the last three. I hit it well, just putts didn’t drop.”
Michelle Wie, looking for her first win of the year, was seven shots back after shooting 73. She’s tied for 54th in the 108-player field.
Wie, who was hampered last year with a back injury, is 17th in the rankings. She missed several birdie chances, including on the ninth -- her final hole of the day.
“Frustrating,” Wie said. “It was one of those days where nothing went in and nothing went my way. It was pretty frustrating that I was 1 over par. I have tomorrow and my game is feeling pretty good. So I just have to go out there and score.”
Wahlin was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2009 while in Dubai. She only played a few events on the European Ladies Tour last year and several on the Swedish tour.
The two-time European Ladies Tour winner has fully recovered from the cancer. She wears sun screen and protective clothing that covers her arms while avoiding tournaments in sunnier locales such as Australia and Portugal. While Dubai normally can reach 122 degrees in the summer, temperatures in December are much cooler.
“I just have to be careful. I mean I have that kind of skin which is quite sensitive to the sun,” Wahlin said. “I thought is it really worth it to be out on the golf course in the sunny countries or is it better that I just quit playing golf and do something else. But I still have to live my life and golf is my life, or a big part of my life.”
Wahlin has struggled since returning to the tour full time this year, failing to earn a top-10 finish this season. She finished 52nd at last week’s Indian Open but said her cancer has given her a fresh perspective.
“Golf is not so important anymore,” Wahlin said. “If I have a bad round, I’m still disappointed. But it’s not the end of the world like it used to be. So that is a good thing.”
With her father Mats on the bag, Wahlin started at the 10th and picked up shots at the 12th and 13th over the Majlis Course on a sunny day at Emirates Golf Club, before dropping a stroke on the par-4 16th. She then reeled off birdies at the second, fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth holes.
"I'm so happy," the 28-year-old said. "I finally had a good round, finally able to make all the putts. I'm just so happy."
Brewerton had six birdies and a bogey. It was a marked improvement from the Indian Open, where the Welsh golfer finished 74th.
"I managed to turn things around a bit from last week," the 29-year-old said. "It was just completely different. It's really hard to say sometimes what makes it change, but for some reason I played well, and having been struggling last week it was actually a bit of a surprise to me as well."
Finland's Minea Blomqvist, Paraguay's Julieta Granada, South Africa's Stacy Lee Bregman and Sweden's Linda Wessberg ended the first day tied for third, two shots off the pace on 4 under after 68s.
Jaclyn Sweeney, Lee-Anne Pace Elizabeth Bennett, Christel Boeljon, Tandi Cuningham, Julie Maisongrosse, Diana Luna, Maria Verchenova and Beth Allen all fired 69s. England's Melissa Reid carded a level-par 72, while Caroline Hedwall and Laura Davies both stumbled to rounds of 75.