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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Cold and windy conditions Saturday hit the World Golf Village’s Slammer & Squire Course, making breaking par a big accomplishment.
And a few were up to the task.
Mathilde Claisse, of Poissy, France, weathered the day (which saw temperatures in the 40s and 50s) best, firing a 3-under 69 to take a one-shot lead after the opening round of the ANNIKA Invitational USA. The Class of 2019 South Carolina commit, who sits 86th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, bested Duke signee Gina Kim (No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior girls rankings) by a shot and is two ahead of Florida State signee Frida Kinhult (No. 11 in the WAGR).
No other player broke par, and 17 players shot 80 or worse. The field includes five of the top six in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Aside from Kim, No. 4 Yujeong Son performed best in that group with an even-par 72 to sit T-4. Top-ranked Lucy Li is tied for 18th after a 74, No. 6 Brianna Navarrosa is T-29 at 4 over and No. 2 Rachel Heck is tied for 53rd at 7 over.
Despite the difficult conditions, Claisse played rather smooth. After a bogey at the par-4 14th (she started on No. 10), Claisse birdied 15 to go out in even-par 36. On her final nine, she made three birdies (at Nos. 2, 5 and 8) and no bogeys to cruise in for a 3-under 69.
The South Carolina commit competed on the European Junior Solheim Cup team last year. In October, she tied for 25th at the Ladies European Tour’s Lacoste Ladies French Open.
The winner this week will receive an exemption into the Symetra Tour’s Florida’s Natural Charity Classic.
With 36 holes remaining, Claisse is in position for another start in a professional event. But certainly plenty of challenge remains.
The stacked field, with 10 of the top 15 from the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings present, will certainly be tough to top. And the conditions may actually turn slightly colder Sunday.
By tournament end, there may not be a single player under par – especially with the soft course players encountered Saturday likely to only grow more firm over the final 36 holes.
With two rounds to go, it appears this one will be a survival of the fittest.