European Solheim Cup player Sandra Gal of Germany started well

Lee-Anne Pace, Suzann Pettersen and Sandra Gal led the Ladies European Tour’s challenge early on the opening day of the Evian Masters, with their sights trained on the pace-setter, Hee Young Park.

Early leader Hee Young Park

The 25-year-old South Korean, bidding for a second LPGA Tour victory after earning her maiden win at the season-ending CME Group Titleholders, recorded a seven under par round of 65 in hot and sunny conditions at the picturesque Evian Masters Golf Club in Haute-Savoie, France.

She was using a belly putter in competition for the first time having made the decision 10 days ago and was filled with confidence after seeing Ernie Els use one to win The Open Championship over the weekend.

Stacy Lewis of the United States was tied for the lead on seven under after 14 holes, while South Korean Ilhee Lee ended on six under 66.  

Pace, Pettersen and Gal were part of a group on three under 69 and Pettersen said: “Three under and I hit my drives sideways. I haven’t played that much golf in two weeks so I guess this is what I needed.”

The Norwegian World No 6 added: “I’m a little bit disappointed because I was four under and I hit a good shot on 16 but then a putt that ran over the back.”

This was her second best opening round in her 12 appearances at the Evian Masters and at she quipped: “I’m getting old: 12 times!” (She is aged 31).

Gal’s round was steadier off the tee and she was pleased to have executed her strategy. Her round was similar to Pettersen’s with four birdies against a bogey at the 16th and she said: “I’m happy with it. I rolled a few nice putts in and I think I stuck to my game plan today and was just executing the shots. One bogey coming in is a little bit annoying but hopefully there will be more birdies tomorrow.”

The 27-year-old from Germany added: “I was hitting it in the right spots off the tee and on the green so I gave myself chances. It’s not playing too long and there are definitely some pins that you can attack. I’m happy with my game and where it is right now so I’ll go and practice now and be ready for tomorrow.”

South African Lee-Anne Pace joined the Solheim Cup duo on three under par after four birdies on the front nine were only countered by a solitary bogey at the 12th.

“A good front nine and I made some really good shots and hit them close. Then number nine I almost hit the green in two so that was an easy birdie,” said Pace, 31.

“I kept pushing my drives, the whole day, so I wasn’t quite sure if it was going to draw or not. I had one missed tee shot which cost me a bogey and the rest of the time I played quite well, but just didn’t make the putts for birdie.

“My iron play was pretty good and my short game was excellent, my chipping was really good and when I missed the green I up and downed almost every time except on the one on 12, which was terrible chip, very difficult. I just have to work on my driving and hit more fairways.”

Pace, who won five tournaments on the Ladies European Tour in 2010, is full of confidence after a second place finish at the South African Women’s Open a fortnight ago where she had a chance to win and added: “I think I’m back. I’m playing much better on the weekends, chasing a little bit. I’ve got a good start here so hopefully a good weekend.

“It’s one of the best tournaments, I think, in the world. Just the place and the course is quite like some of the courses in South Africa with sloping greens. You have to place the ball on the green and short game has to be sharp, but just a stunning place and so well organised.

“At the moment, I just want to play shot by shot, which I did today. I didn’t get upset or ahead of myself.”

Frenchwoman Gwladys Nocera was amongst the leading European Tour players at three under after 11 holes, along with recent major winner, China’s Shanshan Feng.

Meanwhile the defending champion Ai Miyazato was three under on the front nine but struggled with three bogeys against a birdie coming in to end the day at one under and World No1 Yani Tseng opened with a four over 76.