SYLVANIA, Ohio – Na Yeon Choi took a step toward forgetting what happened a week ago.
After missing an LPGA cut for the first time in more than 2 1/2 years, Choi changed putters to shoot a 7-under 64 and take a one-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.
“After that, I feel I need to trust myself more,” she said. “So I changed putters for a good setup.”
It sure worked. She needed just 26 putts in a career-best round that included eight birdies and a bogey at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
The South Korean had made 64 cuts in a row dating to 2007 before failing to get to play on the weekend at last week’s LPGA Championship. This year, she was 10 for 10 in cuts made, including a tie for second at the State Farm.
Choi, whose only victory was at the 2009 Samsung World Championship, leads the tour in birdies this year. Missing that cut at the season’s second major provides plenty of incentive to make more of them.
“For me to be able to come back the next week and win the tournament would mean a lot to me,” she said. “It would go a long way in terms of building my trust back up.”
Canadian Alena Sharp, celebrating Canada Day, was a shot back after a 65.
Never better than seventh in a tournament in her six years on tour, she birdied the first hole and never took a step back, closing with birdies on her final two holes. Sharp said one of the reasons she played so well was because she is so close to a host family.
“It just feels like a second home,” she said. “It’s easier to play golf when you’re really comfortable. I’ve had good rounds here in the past. I birdied the first hole and holed out on the fourth hole from a plugged lie in the bunker and I was like, ‘Well, maybe this is my day.’”
Marisa Baena, playing even though she says she has officially retired from competitive golf, was at 66 along with Christina Kim and Switzerland’s Karine Icher.
Baena was a rising star during her college days at Arizona, but injured her shoulder her junior year and said she’s never been the same. She collected almost $2 million since 1999, but hasn’t won a tournament in five years. Upset that she is constantly dealing with health issues and tired of not playing well, she came to suburban Toledo from her native Colombia because she has always enjoyed the stop.
“I just came here because I love the tournament,” she said after playing in just her third tour event of the year. “I’m as healthy as I’ve been in many years because I’ve pretty much almost taken the year off. I just started hitting balls about a month ago. … I know I’m just not ready to play full time. I played hurt for too many years, and I’m not willing to do that anymore.”
She now spends her time working with 11- to 16-year-old golfers in her homeland.
Defending champ Eunjung Yi had a 71, as did Paula Creamer, the 2008 Farr winner. Creamer, making just her fourth start of the year, continues to play in pain as she recovers from surgery on her left thumb.
“I struggled a bit today. I just didn’t give myself enough opportunities,” said Creamer, who opened with a career-best 60 two years ago. “I’m just excited to be out here competing.”
Morgan Pressel, a runner-up in two of the last three Farrs, sagged to a 74.
Many of the top players are bypassing the tournament to prepare for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont. Only one of the top seven in the world rankings and just three of the top 10 on the LPGA money list are in the field.
It was announced on Wednesday that the tournament would take a one-year hiatus because many of the organizers and sponsors will be involved in the 2011 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club in Toledo.