Webb in top form at U.S. Women's Open

By Dan O'Neill
Published on
Webb in top form at U.S. Women's Open

LANCASTER, Pa. -- The town of Lancaster is steeped in history, one of the oldest inland cities in the country, home to abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and James Buchanan, the 15th president.

And the first day of the U.S. Women's Open appropriately nodded to history. You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time Karrie Webb had a round in the 60s at this national championship. She had three rounds in the 60s that week at the Broadmoor in Colorado, and she won the championship for the second year in succession.

Webb, 40, dialed in some of that golf she shot four years ago and on Thursday posted a 4-under-par 66 in the first round of the Women's Open at Lancaster Country Club. When thunderstorms ended play early, she had a piece of the lead after Day 1 of the championship for the first time in her career.

"Playing rounds like this is what motivates me," said Webb, winner of 41 LPGA events and seven major championships. "I've worked really hard over the last year because I changed coaches. And what's really pleasing is to play like this because I know that I've worked really hard and the swing is starting to be a little more automatic."

Related: Karrie Webb shares lead at U.S. Women's Open after rain halts first round

Also finishing in the morning, 24-year-old Marina Alex had a matching 66 to join Webb at the top. Moreover, a number of players in contention were unable to complete their cards after the deluge arrived.

Both Na Yeon Choi and Jane Park were 3 under when play was postponed. Choi, the 2012 winner, has three holes to complete; Park has five left. Two-time champion Inbee Park (four holes to complete) and 16-year old amateur Muni He (seven scores remaining) were 2 under.

An amateur has captured the Women's Open only once, when France's Catherine LaCoste won in 1967 at Hot Springs, Va. A native of Chengdu, China, He speaks Spanish, English and French. She appears to be speaking LaCoste's language.

Amy Yang posted a 3-under 67 to trail the lead by one. Six others, including Morgan Pressel, scored 68. Pressel first played in this event in 2001 when she was 12. Stacy Lewis and Azahara Munoz had 69s.

Webb actually opened her 2001 championship with a 70, before shooting 65-69-69. Since then, she had more U.S. Open rounds in the 80s (two) than in the 60s. But when you hit all 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens, it's an easy drive down Route 66.

Webb's last major championship success was at the 2006 ANA Inspiration. But she found sustenance in her tie for seventh at the LPGA's most recent major, the KPMG Women's PGA.

"It's been a test of my patience," said Webb, who had two wins last year. "I feel like I've had some good golf in me. I played well at the KPMG a couple of weeks ago. ... And I felt good coming into here, just trying not to set the expectations too high, put too much pressure on myself."

Informed her last stroll through the 60s was in 2001, Webb admitted she hadn't thought about it, adding: "But it's a good sign."

There were other good signs. Rain has been steady presence in the area -- sound familiar? The William S. Flynn-designed golf course is playing softer than a St. Louis Rams defensive back. Many expected the bigger hitters to enjoy the advantage, those able to carry the ball farther and keep it on the roll-slowing fairways.

But there is a flipside, reflected by the leaderboard and Webb's play. The soft greens are accepting of longer clubs. For instance, Webb was able to hit a 5-wood into the green at the par-3 No. 8 and have it stop three feet shy of the hole. She knocked in the putt for a birdie, one of four in her last eight holes. Webb used every club in her bag except the 6 iron.

"Just the way it was set up today, I don't think the course sets up any differently for longer hitters or shorter hitters," she said. "The greens are soft enough that shorter hitters are still going to be able to hold the green."

Alex was a two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year at Vanderbilt. She played on this large stage as an 18-year old-amateur, qualifying for Saucon Valley in 2009. She shot 82-78 and missed the cut, hitting 18 fairways and 15 greens over two days. At Lancaster, she has 13 fairways and 17 greens after one day. "My game then and now is not even remotely the same," Alex said.

Both Webb and Alex started on the back side and closed on the front. While Webb's trip was bogey-free, Alex had a bogey at No. 14 to accompany five birdies. After missing six of seven cuts earlier this season, she made some changes and tied for ninth at the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship in late June.

"Now that I've put some of these changes into play a little more often, I just feel more comfortable and I'm making freer swings and the results are showing from that," Alex said. "So I think this is hopefully a trend in the right direction."

Speaking of trends, Michelle Wie has not had as much as a top-10 since winning the 2014 Women's Open at Pinehurst. Wie has been dealing with a hip problem, which has required a narrower stance. The condition won't appreciate the elevations at Lancaster, which is not an easy course to walk.

A reigning champion has not missed the cut since Birdie Kim in 2006. Wie's 2-over 72 was not reassuring, but she called it serviceable.

"You can't win the tournament on the first day, but you definitely can lose it," Wie, 25, said. "I definitely feel like I'm in there. I think I held it together today. I had a lot of opportunities where I had to make big putts, and I'm proud of myself for that."

This article was written by Dan O'Neill from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.