In the LPGA Tour’s emphatic return to Shanghai, Sweden's Maja Stark and Thailand's Wichanee Meechai capitalized on sunny morning conditions to top the Buick LPGA Shanghai leaderboard after posting 6-under 66s. Both players hold the first-round co-lead for the first time in their Tour careers as they hold a two-stroke advantage over ten players in a tie for third at 4-under. Meechai may be making her debut in the event, but is no stranger to Qizhong GC, playing the course when she played on the CLPGA and when it hosted a Ladies European Tour event.
“I feel like Chinese now because I play on China Tour for three years and you have to speak Chinese and you have to get used to stuff, so it's like get used to stuff and feel like home,” said Meechai.
She had a slow start to the day, making pars on her seven opening holes before notching back-to-back eagles on Nos. 17 and 18, making it the 27th instance a player has done so since 1980. Despite bogeys on Nos. 1 and 4, Meechai rebounded with birdies on 3, 4, 7 and 8 to tie her lowest 18-hole score this season and her career-low opening-round score.
“It was just a chip-in, not a far chip from the 17. I mean, makable eagle, but the 18 hole, it was crazy,” said Meechai. “It was like I hit my 8-iron and I miss it a little bit -- I mean, it will cover but I thin it a little bit. So it just barely cover the bunker and then I was like, oh, it must be a good shot. A lot of people were like celebrate so I was like, okay, figure it out. It's hole-out. It's nice. It's just golf.”
After admitting to finding a newfound confidence following her debut Solheim Cup appearance in Spain this past September, Stark carded her first bogey-free round since March on the first day in Shanghai and in her first official Tour event since missing the cut at the Portland Classic. Stark notched early birdies on No. 11 and the par-5 13th after staring on the back nine, but kicked it into gear after the turn and closed with four more birdies in her last eight holes.
“I said to my caddie on the range [before the round], because I could not hit the ball, at all, I just thought, this is going to be interesting,” said Stark. “I told that to him and he said, well, you've hit the ball worse than this and you shot 6-under before, so went out and did that again.”
among the ten players in a tie for third are local favorites Yu Liu, Danlin Cai and Shuying Li, as well as the two-time champion Danielle Kang of the USA. Liu’s 68 is her lowest 18-hole score since a first-round 67 at the Dana Open in July.
Kang credited her winning experience and course knowledge en route to a steady 68, which included three birdies in her first eight holes on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“You just have to have ball striking really in play with wedges because there is a lot of tricky grass around the greens,” said Kang. “My caddie, Brian, really helped me stay in the moment. He's like, it's only Thursday. Stop looking at the leaderboard. We're going to end up where you need to end up.”