LOS ANGELES: Two-time major champion Anna Nordqvist fired seven birdies in a seven-under 64 on Friday to share the first round lead in the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship with Jackie Stoelting and Esther Lee.
Stoelting, making her first LPGA start since the birth of her son last October, also nabbed seven birdies on the Pinnacle Course in Rogers, Arkansas, where Lee collected eight birdies and a bogey to join the leading trio.
“Today was really good,” Nordqvist said. “I feel like I’ve done a lot of good things the last couple weeks. It just hasn’t really paid off.
“It’s been a little bit disappointing, a little bit frustrating,” added the Swede, who finished tied for 32nd at the Women’s British Open at Troon last week. “But had a pretty good talk with my caddie and fiance the beginning of the week, and I feel like they kept me in it.”
Stoelting, 34, is making her first start in 14 months. Some of that time off was due to the birth of her son, now 10 months old, and some to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel great,” she said. “I didn’t really have many expectations. But I also have an extremely different perspective on life now that I’m a mom. So, I just was out here really trying to have fun and take it one shot at a time.”
Stoelting said she found it harder to play during her pregnancy than she expected, feeling more fatigue and struggling to find her game.
“So, I felt like (today) I picked it up from Q Series two years ago where I finished top 10. I just kind of tried to remember that event and put myself back there.”
In her sixth career LPGA start, Lee broke 70 for the first time on tour after missing the cut in five prior events in a rookie season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been hard to find a rhythm for tournament golf,” Lee said. “I’ve definitely struggled the first few back.
“It’s nice that when everyone was in Scotland for two weeks, I was just at home and just kind of took a breather. Just kind of re-examined everything and seems to be working well so far.”
England’s Stephanie Meadow and South Korea’s Kim Sei-Young were in a group on 64 that included Australian Katherine Kirk, Puerto Rico’s Maria Fernanda Torres and Americans Austin Ernst and Mina Harigae.
It was a further shot back to Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford, Dana Finkelstein, China’s Yan Jing and Lizette Salas.
The 54-hole event featuring seven of the world’s top 10 players is being played without spectators and is the last tuneup for the year’s second major, the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage, California, starting on September 10.
Defending champion Park Sung-hyun is not in the field, the world number three from South Korea remaining in self-quarantine in her homeland because of the COVID-19 pandemic. — AFP
LPGA NW Arkansas Championship scores
First round (USA unless noted, par-71):
64 - Esther Lee, Anna Nordqvist (SWE), Jackie Stoelting
65 - Stephanie Meadow (ENG), Kim Sei-young (KOR), Austin Ernst, Mina Harigae, Katherine Kirk (AUS), Maria Fernanda Torres (PUR)
66 - Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford, Dana Finkelstein, Yan Jing (CHN), Lizette Salas
67 - Chun In-gee (KOR), Maria Fassi (MEX), Jenny Shin (KOR), Moriya Jutanugarn (THA), Lee Mi-hyang (KOR), Park In-bee (KOR), Nelly Korda, Linnea Strom (SWE), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (ENG)