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Mirim Lee takes U.S. Women's Open lead

By Carl Steward
Published on

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- For much of an idyllic Thursday morning, CordeValle Golf Club played like a local pitch-and-putt in the opening round of the U.S. Women's Open. Then, under warm, dry and breezy conditions in the afternoon, the course bit back and took out revenge on the biggest names in the field.

Players who teed off before 9 a.m. enjoyed perfect, windless conditions and greens that were still holding approach shots. They dominated the first-day leader board, and the 8:44 a.m. group that went off CordeValle's 10th hole took particular advantage.

South Korean Mirim Lee and American Cristie Kerr staged a birdie-thon throughout the calm, cool morning hours. Neck-and-neck under almost from the start, Lee and Kerr combined for an astounding 17 birdies, and Southern Californian Lizette Salas, the final member of the threesome, logged four.

Lee really kicked it in high gear to finish the round, making five of her 10 total birdies over the final seven holes to card an 8-under par 64, just one stroke off the U.S. Women's Open record. Kerr, looking like her vintage self during a winless year, made seven birdies and shot 5-under 67 to share second place with Minjee Lee of Australia and Amy Yang of South Korea.

Mirim Lee and Kerr made just two bogeys apiece and had a blast tearing up the course.

"I don't know if you looked at Mirim's card and my card, but we might have shot 59 best ball, or close to it," said Kerr, who won the Open way back in 2007 as one of her two majors. "I think maybe she birdied a couple of holes that I didn't. And the same way the other way. I think you would expect the USGA is not too happy with that score."

Perhaps not, but the low rounds might not have been a case of the course setup so much as the drastically varying conditions throughout the day. In the afternoon, players found it far more difficult to get anything close to the hole on approaches to the firmer, faster greens, including the 2:03 p.m. supergroup of Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson, three of the world's top four players (third-ranked Inbee Park is out with a thumb injury).

Just trying to stay within striking distance for their own shot a morning run on Friday, there was a lot of scrambling and not many fireworks from the threesome garnering the largest galleries by far at CordeValle. Top-ranked Ko and No. 4 Thompson shot 1-over 73, while 18-year-old Canadian sensation and second-ranked Henderson wound up with a 4-over 76. The group gets back to work Friday at 8:28 a.m.

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The big guns combined for seven birdies -- three fewer than Lee by herself. They also had to contemplate 13 combined bogeys.

All things considered following an uneventful, sometimes harrowing six-hour round, Ko seemed in good spirits, taking a good-natured jab at Lee.

"Mirim, I don't know what course she played," she said. "Maybe she played the ladies' tees or a different course."

Several other afternoon players struggled to stay in contention, notably Pleasanton native Paula Creamer at 2-over 74 and 2014 champion and former Stanford student Michelle Wie at 3-over 75.

While it's not unusual in any golf tournament for early-in-the-day scores to be better than those in the later hours, the first day of this Open was pretty stark. Of the 10 players who shot in the 60s, only Yang broke into the top seven from the afternoon wave, and she did that with a late rush.

As for the 25-year-old Mirim Lee, a two-time tour winner who placed 47th in her Open debut last year, she hit 11 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens in regulation to give herself many birdie chances, and she also required just 27 putts to post her 64. It will be interesting to see how she responds Friday with a 2:09 tee time, but she's given herself a nice three-stroke cushion.

Lee got her point across regarding the quality of her round.

"I think everything was good, like driver is good and then iron is good," she said. "Putting, a couple of missed putts, but not bad."

MORE: Photos from CordeValle

Kerr, meanwhile, was a pleasant surprise to see near the top of the board. The 38-year-old from Miami with 18 LPGA Tour victories has had one of her toughest years on tour, playing in 16 prior tournaments with just one top 10. She's also missed the cut in the past two Opens.

She credited her resurgence to finally finding a driver that's working for her after struggling off the tee for several months.

"I can't blame everything on the club, obviously, but when you're struggling to hit fairways, it makes the game a lot harder," Kerr said. "I hit it great today. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week."

Ko and her top-ranked peers, however, are simply looking forward to playing in the morning.

This article was written by Carl Steward from East Bay Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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