SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. – Alexis Thompson is now one better than Morgan Pressel in two areas at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Thompson, the 12-year-old from Florida who beat Pressel’s record by one year as the youngest qualifier in history, finished off her first round Friday morning by chipping in for birdie from 40 yards, giving her a 5-over 76 and a big smile after she signed her card.
It was one shot better than Pressel’s 77 when she made her debut at Pine Needles six years ago.
She was eight shots behind Angela Park, who finished her 68 some 20 hours earlier on Thursday, before dangerous weather moved into the area and caused half the field to return the next morning to finish the round in sunny, serene conditions.
“It was going off the green,” Thompson said of her bump-and-run with a lob wedge. “But it goes in. I was like,‘Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, thank God. Whew!”’
In-Bee Park and Shiho Oyama each completed a 69 to finish one shot out of the lead. Defending champion Annika Sorenstam birdied the par-5 15th and hung on for pars to finish at 70. Only 10 players broke par in the first round.
Thompson was in a tie for 93rd, and had a decent chance of making the cut if she kept the ball in the fairway.
The only way 17-year-old Michelle Wie would make it to the weekend was if weather interrupted play again, and thunderstorms were likely Friday afternoon.
Wie was 13 when she made her Women’s Open debut four years ago and opened with a 73. She was a lot like Thompson then, a constant smile, occasional frustration typical of any golfer, mostly joy from competing. Based on the way she continued her free fall Thursday, that must seem like a distant memory.
“I know I’m a better player than this,” the 17-year-old from Hawaii said after hitting only four fairways, four greens and signing for an 82 that extended her streak to 21 rounds without breaking par, 13 of those on the LPGA Tour.
Thompson figured she could do better, too. She finished the tougher back nine in darkness at 3 over and was hopeful of playing the front nine at around even. But she twice had to save bogey,chipping over the green at No. 2 and barely getting out of a bunker on the next hole. She ran into problems off the tee, usually pulling her shots into the rough or pine needles.
But she came up with two big shots at the end. After running a 35-foot birdie putt some 15 feet by the hole at No. 8, she made that coming back for par, then drew the biggest cheers from a gallery of some 75 people by chipping in for birdie.
“I just wanted to treat this like another junior tournament,” Thompson said. “I knew there was going to be more peopleand more media. But just do your best.”
Angela Park is an18-year-old rookie on the LPGA Tour who is quickly gaining experience leading the majors. She made three straight birdies in the crisp, calm morning, and dropped only one shot for her 68. She also was atop the leaderboard after one round of the LPGA Championship, where she wound up fifth.
“Maybe this week will be different,” said Park, who was born in Brazil to South Korean parents and grew up in California.
It was different for Karrie Webb, bordering on surreal.
She won the Women’s Open the last time it was played at Pine Needles in2001, and was considered one of the favorites. No one could have guessed the Hall of Famer would fail to make a birdie on her way to an83, the highest score of her career.
That includes Webb.
“I have no excuses. I’m not that kind of player,” Webb said. “Do you think I had any idea I’d shoot 83? It was a terrible round, one of the worst days of my career.”
There were plenty of other surprises over 13 1/2 hours of the first day.
•Lorena Ochoa went from celebrating one of the most amazing shots of her career, holing out from a bunker with a 5-wood, to stunning bad luck when her approach bounced between two bleachers and out-of-bounds. She was at even par, along with Pressel, the youngest LPGA major champion,Brittany Lincicome and Cristie Kerr.
• Laura Davies, needing a victory at a major to get into the Hall of Fame, holed out from the fairway on No. 8 for eagle to get within one shot of the lead, only to drop three shots over the next six holes. She finished up a 72.
•Juli Inkster was working her way up the leaderboard and was 50 yards in front of the green on the par-5 10th. But her flop shot was blocked by a bunker, and it came out 40 feet long. She then four-putted for double bogey and was 2 over through 12 holes. When she returned, she dropped six more shots over four holes and shot 78.
Wie was hopeful this tournament would be different, but she offered only a feint smile whens he rapped in her 82nd stroke of the round on the final hole. She played without a brace on her left wrist, and her injury seemed to be the least of her worries the way she slashed out of the Bermuda rough.
“All I need is the confidence to play well,” she said. “And I just need to see one round where all my shots are where I want them to be. Then after that, it’s a done deal. I just need to see it.”