South Korea’s Meena Lee used to play the piano as a child but at Carnoustie today she composed sweet music of an altogether different kind when she carded a superb seven under par 65 to claim the first round lead at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The diminutive 29 year-old, who hails from Jeonju, South Korea, gave up her musical studies at the age of 15 in order to concentrate on her golf and in the rain on the East coast of Scotland that looked like a fine decision as she carded seven birdies to go into the second round two shots in front of America’s Brittany Lincicome and three ahead of her compatriot Amy Yang, Germany’s Caroline Masson, Swedish former champion Sophie Gustafson and a second American, Angela Stanford.
On a day which started under bright skies and improved late in the afternoon, Caroline Hedwall, Momoko Ueda, Na Yeong Choi, Amy Hung, Song-Hee Kim, Lorie Kane, Paula Creamer and Mika Miyazato all returned three under par rounds of 69 to go into the second round in a share of seventh place.
2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, Catriona Matthew, and Becky Brewerton, from Wales, were the best-placed British competitors after posting 70s to share 15th place alongside Anna Nordqvist, Karrie Webb, Shanshan Feng, Eun Hee Ji, Pat Hurst, Vicky Hurst, Britanny Lang, Morgan Pressel, Kristie Smith, Inbee Park, Dewi Schreefel, Hee Young Park and German amateur, Sophia Popov while a further 18 golfers, including defending champion and pre-Championship favourite, Yani Tseng, also broke par on one under par 71.
Lee has not won since the 2006 Fields Open in Hawaii but she did finish tied sixth at this year’s LPGA Championship and she replicated that sort of form with a faultless round that might have been even better but for missing a seven foot putt for a birdie on the closing hole.
The Korean’s round started in fine fashion when she holed from eight feet for a birdie on the 360-yard par-4 opening hole and she went on to reach the turn in four under par 32 after further birdies at the sixth, seventh and ninth.
The rain was at its worst when Lee turned for home but that did not stop her moving to five under par with a birdie three on the 317-yard par-4 11th and she made further advances at the 427-yard par-5 14th and the 433-yard par-5 17th both of which she hit in two.
“That’s as good as it gets,” she said as she tried gamely to answer the questions fired at her by the world’s media. “My feel was very good today and my putting was very good.
“My putting is normally pretty good,” she added with a disarming smile.
Lincicome began her round brightly with birdie on the 360-yard par-4 second where she hit a driver and a gap wedge to 15-feet. She dropped a shot at the 448-yard par-4 sixth after narrowly avoiding driving out-of-bounds but then repaired the damage when she hole a 40-foot putt for a birdie on the 143-yard par-3 eighth.
The 2009 LPGA champion started the back nine with a bogey on the 10th but then went on a fabulous run that saw her make up four shots in the space of three holes from the 12th.
The American’s first birdie came on the 12th where she hit a driver and a wedge to 25-feet. She proceeded to hit a 7-iron to seven feet on the 13th before claiming an eagle on the 427-yard par-5 14th where she hit a 300-yard drive and then a 6-iron to no more than 10-feet from the flag.
“It was a really good round,” said Lincicome. “I felt I hit the ball really well.
“It’s one of those courses where you need to take advantage of some holes and I managed to do that. I also got lucky on the sixth because I was literally an inch from being out-of-bounds off the tee.
“It’s just a great golf course and it seems to fit my game very well,” she added.
Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall is one of the rising stars of the Ladies European Tour and she took advantage of the tranquil morning weather with a fine three under par 69 which left her in the large group four shots behind Lee.
Twelve months ago at Royal Birkdale, Hedwall won the Smyth Salver awarded to the leading amateur at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and, subsequently, after winning the LET Qualifying School, she has claimed two victories in the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open and the Finnair Masters in what has been a sensational debut season as a pro. For good measure, the 22 year-old from Barseback also beat the likes of Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Graeme McDowell and John Daly at a PowerPlay Ignition event at Celtic Manor and in the process won a cheque for £100,00 to add to the €176,773 she has collected to date on this year’s Tour.
Hedwall had the honour of hitting the first shot at this year’s Championship and her 06.30 start clearly did not unsettle her as she fired six birdies and three bogeys in what she described as an up-and-down round.
“I didn’t hit the ball that great today, and I also got a couple of yardages wrong, but I saved myself with my putting,” she said.
“I think I’m going to have to do a bit of work on the range because, if the wind starts to get up. I think I’m going to struggle if I keep hitting it like this.
It turned out to be a good day for several of the amateurs in the 144-woman field. Germany’s Sophia Popov, who is currently in her first year at the University of Southern California and owes her place in the field to her victory at last year’s European Ladies’ Amateur Championship, was the best of the bunch.
The world’s No. 6 ranked amateur carded a fine two under par 70 to go into the second round in a share of 15th place. Scotland’s Pamela Pretswell, , the 2010 British Women’s Open Amateur champion, looked set to join her before recording a double bogey on the treacherous 213-yard par-3 16th but she held her nerve to post a creditable level par 72.
The Scot, Pretswell was later joined on that mark by 2010 US Women’s Amateur champion, Daniella Kang, who, incidentally, is a Tae Kwon Do expert and earned a second degree black belt at the age of just seven. Lauren Taylor, who also displayed precocious talent, winning the 2011 British Women’s Amateur Championship at the age of just 16, carded a two over par 74, Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow returned a 75 while 19 year-old English qualifier, Nikki Foster carded a 78.