(Turnberry, Scotland, August 8 2002) Candie Kung from Taiwan leapt to the top of the leaderboard after setting a new course record seven under par 65 in the first round of the £1,000,000 Weetabix Women’s British Open at Turnberry GC beside the Firth of Clyde.
The rookie professional, who celebrated her 21st birthday today, awarded herself the perfect present, rattling off an error free round in perhaps the most benign conditions this famed links will see this week.
Kung leads Australia’s Karrie Webb, a two-time winner of this title, by a shot. The Australian former world number one made full use of her solid putting stroke to post seven birdies to move into the hunt for her sixth major championship.
Elisabeth Esterl from Germany, a bright, bubbly Bavarian, entertained the crowd to a new style of golf fashion with her psychedelic trousers while amassing six birdies and one bogey for a five under par 67.
The 25-year-old from Dingolfing shares third place with defending champion Se Ri Pak from South Korea, Australian Rachel Teske and American Tina Barrett, who finished in one of the last groups of the day.
Of the early starters, Sweden’s Carin Koch rebounded from missing the cut in the P4 Norwegian Masters last week to post a four under par 68 and share fourth place with Korean Mi Hyun Kim, Emilee Klein from the USA, Italian Federica Dassu and Turnberry’s own Mhairi McKay, who used her extensive local knowledge of the Ailsa course, finishing strongly with a hat trick of birdies as she searches for her first major championship victory.
And 12 players share 12th place on three under par 69 including the glamour pairing of Spain’s Paula Marti and Natalie Gulbis from the USA, Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson and 2000 Solheim Cup star Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
During a glut of low scoring from the finest women golfers around the globe, Kung began strongly with an outward half of 34, with birdies at the opening two holes.
But the former University of California player blistered her way around the back nine with birdies at the tenth, 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th to set a new course record over the Ailsa course.
“I was hitting the ball well the last couple of weeks,” said Kung, who has posted top ten finishes on the LPGA in the last two events.
“I just pretty much tried to do the same things as I have been doing in the last couple of weeks and today, the putts went in and that really makes a difference.”
Webb, who finished late into the afternoon, showed signs of returning to the top form of 1999 and 2000 where she dominated women’s golf. The five-time major champion set her stall out for the week with a solid start and was delighted with just 26 putts in her score.
“Obviously I am very pleased to shoot six under par on this course, even as easy as the conditions were,” said Webb, who won this title in 1995 and 1997, before it became a Major championship.
“I don’t think you ever plan on shooting six under, so I feel really good about that. I putted really well and hit the ball fairly well too. Probably the good thing about the way I hit the ball today were the misses were always in the right place.
While Kung was visibly nervous at visiting the Media centre for the first time, Esterl held audience with remarkable confidence and illuminated the otherwise drab interview room with her sparkling personality along with those famous multi-coloured trousers.
“You watch out – I’ll find something really special tomorrow, I assure you, you won’t see me in black and white!” laughed Esterl, admitted to matching her outfits to her red or yellow ostrich leather shoes!
“I’ve played pretty well at the beginning of this season and then I went through a dull spell, now it looks as if I have got it together again. I’ve got my putter going and that is what makes a huge difference.
“It’s a shame I finished with two three putts, on the 17th I hit the green in two and I reckon that the guys must have set that pin position after having a few beers!
“And on 18, I just hit one club less and came up short and got a bit aggressive with the first putt.”
McKay, playing in front of her home crowd, was visibly nervous approaching the first tee, but a birdie at the opening hole, followed by another at the third saw her relax and plough through the pressure with consummate ease.
The 27-year-old from Glasgow added another birdie at the seventh, dropped her first shot of the day at the eighth and birdied the notoriously tricky ninth to turn in 33.
But her round began to fall away with lapses in concentration ending on bogies on the tenth and fifteenth. However, in true Scots spirit, she fought back bravely, entertaining her many fans with a trio of birdies to close out her round.
“I’m happy to be sitting here (in the press centre) having shot 68, I guess I might have to put that in the ballot box for my handicap,” laughed McKay, who admitted that this was her best round over the Ailsa course with a card in her hand.
“It was definitely a nice pressure and I think I put a lot of pressure on myself because I was at home and I wanted to play well. Actually, I got to the first tee and didn’t feel as bad as I thought I would.
“I’m going to be apprehensive tomorrow morning, but I am just going to savour this moment.”
Compatriot Janice Moodie closed with a level par 72 and blamed her putter for keeping her out of the hunt in round one.
“I played really well, but couldn’t hole any putts, I struck the ball as well as I need to and didn’t capitalize on the par fives,” said Moodie, a star from The 2000 Solheim Cup.
England’s Laura Davies, winner in Norway last week, ruined an otherwise solid day after racking up a quadruple bogey nine on the par five 17th. The 38-year-old from Surrey carded a two over par 74 and is one shot behind World number one Annika Sorenstam, who had a 73.
“It all revolved around the nine. I hit the stuff on the left and couldn’t get out, I then went in a fairway bunker, then a greenside bunker. It was the driver that did the damage.”