Carlota Ciganda and caddie Javi Urquizu during her first round at the China Suzhou Taihu Open

Leading Ladies European Tour rookie Carlota Ciganda fired a bogey-free opening round of seven under par 65 in warm and misty conditions to take a one stroke lead after the first round of the China Suzhou Taihu Open on Friday.

The impressive 22-year-old from Pamplona carded seven birdies around the Suzhou Taihu International golf course on her first appearance in China to end the day a stroke clear of fellow Spaniard Tania Elosegui. Englishwoman Florentyna Parker is in sole third place on 67, with the 2010 champion Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa, Germany’s Caroline Masson and Frenchwoman Cassandra Kirkland all on four under par.  

Meanwhile local star Na Zhang, who gave birth to a baby boy in January, is tied for seventh with Gwladys Nocera of France, the runner-up in 2009.

“I played very solid off the tee and hit good shots into the green. I think the key was my putting because I made really good putts,” said Ciganda, who earned her first Ladies European Tour victory at the Deloitte Ladies Open in Holland in June. “I played great golf and made no bogeys so that really helped me. I was just hitting great shots and I think I hit 17 greens, made 29 putts and hit it very solid to the green.”

Despite a 5am alarm call and suffering a little jet-lag, Carlota felt relaxed as she started on the 10th tee. She quickly birdied the 12th before making four birdies in a row from the 16th, then picked up two further shots at the fourth and fifth, finishing with four steady pars.

“I made a couple of long putts on my front nine, finished four under and then the back nine, the real front, I made three birdies and was playing good. The first birdie putt, on 12, my third hole, was 12 metres. The second birdie on 16, my seventh hole, about 10 metres and then 17, I birdied from three metres away.

“On 18, I two-putted and had a putt for eagle from eight metres. On the third, my 12th, I had a par on the par three, after I hit it to the bunker and got up and down. On the next one, the fourth, I birdied after hitting a really good second shot, to three metres from the flag. On the par five I had a three-wood and four-iron, hit it over the pin, so I just chipped it very close, to one foot.”

Elosegui, who also earned her sole LET title in Holland, albeit on a different golf course, in 2009, said: “My iron shots were pretty good and I was hitting it close to the pin. My driving and short irons were the best part of my game.”

However, it was Parker who hit the most birdies in the first day’s play with eight. She bogeyed hole three to sign for 5-under and said: “I regret those misses for par putts. It just failed to get into the cup. I hope to make amends tomorrow.”

Pace had six birdies in her first-round 68. China is one her favourite countries on the LET’s circuit and this was the scene of her last win two years ago. She said:  “I feel really comfortable on this golf course and I’m only three shots off the lead.”

England’s Laura Davies was happy with her two under 70, although disappointed to have bogeyed the ninth, which she played as her last hole.

She hopes to improve on her position of 11th on the order of merit over the next two weeks but said that her reasons for coming to China were primarily that she likes the golf courses both in Suzhou and at next week’s Sanya Ladies Open.  “I haven’t done well here in the past but I know I can do well on both of them,” she said.

Meanwhile, Wei Li of China had a reason to cheer as she had a hole-in-one at the par-3 eighth hole, although after an 80 she was sitting 15 shots off the lead.