AMERICANS MAKE HAY
Young and Castrale are the leaders
Americans Heather Young and Nicole Castrale, firing on all cylinders, took the spotlight on the opening day of the US$1.3-million [Bt50-million] Honda LPGA Thailand with identical seven-under 65s to emerge on top of the leader board at the Amata Spring Country Club yesterday.
Texan Young, ranked No 36 in the world, produced a bogey-free round, picking birdies on holes 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18 to emulate early leader Castrale, who sank eight birdies against a lone bogey on the fourth hole.
If the locals were expecting a fine day, they were in for a disappointment. None worse than their greatest hope Virada Nirapathpongporn, who stumbled to a five-over-par 77 with six bogeys making up a dismal card. Lying 57th among 60 golfers in the field, she has a real battle in her hands.
"I felt really under pressure and quite nervous playing at home. But when I saw fans carry 'We love Virada' signs, it kept me going,'' said the downhearted Thai No 1, who blamed her putts for her poor show.
Least was expected from Titiya Plucksataporn but the stocky girl kept the Thai colours flying with a two-under 70 score, the best by a local challenger, which left her at joint 16th position.
"I was so excited playing on the course. It is such a big event and many eyes were on me. I tried to be positive and took deep breaths to concentrate on my game,'' said the 23-year-old Titiya, who won two SEA Games silver medals for Thailand five years ago.
Young, who won her only title at the Jamie Faar Owens Corning Classic last season, is yet to find her momentum this year, making only one top 10 finish, a tied ninth place in the Ginn Clubs & Resort Open.
"I did everything better today than I have done it for a while. I gave myself birdie chances by hitting good shots and then made the putts,'' said the 31-year-old American, who was so bothered by the heat that she had to take shelter under an umbrella and drank bottles of water to prevent herself from becoming dehydrated.
The California-based Castrale, ranked 39th on the money list, remained on track for her first career trophy.
"I hit a lot of fairways and greens and made a lot of putts. The golf course is in perfect shape so I think there will be a lot of low scores,'' said Castrale, whose best run of the season was a fourth position finish in the Fields Open in Hawaii.
The American, who travels with her husband Craig, paid handsome compliments to the golf course but said the heat had affected her play.
"It is very hot. I tried to carry the umbrella as much as I could but it still was hot. I had to drink a lot of fluids,'' said Castrale, whose strategy for the weekend is "to hit fairways and greens accurately".
Meena Lee of South Korea is third with six-under 66 while compatriot Han Hee-won is fourth one shot behind.
Titiya sank three birdies on holes 4, 10 and 17 and bogeyed the ninth after an erratic chip.
"The green was very fast and I chipped it long,'' said Titiya, who joined the European LPGA this January. She shot a splendid birdie on the island green of the par 3 145-yard hole 17. "I hit a 7 iron and putted for a birdie,'' said Titiya, who hopes to make the top 20 on Sunday.
American-Thai Stacy Prammanasudh could have started the first day with a better position if she had not bogeyed the final hole and had to settle for even par to be tied 35th.
"I was a little shaky. I made a couple of good birdies and then I just really didn't get anything going,'' said Prammanasudh. The world No 17 said she loved Thai food and would try everything, even from the street vendors.
Korean-Thai Aree Song had a two-over par to end up tied 48th.
"I was up-and-down all day. The green was faster than during the practise and pro-am rounds. And it was windy too. I just have to be more aggressive in the next two days,'' said Song, whose mother hails from Chiang Mai.
Eighteen-year-old Nontaya Srisawang had two birdies until nerves got the better of her in the last three holes. She hit two double bogeys on the final two holes for a two-over 74.
"I had no problem with the course but the problem was myself. My hands were shaking and I missed several putts. The 17th and 18th were debilitating," said Nontaya.
Leading first-round scores:
65-Nicole Castrale; Heather Young
68-Diana D'Alessio; Jane Park; Kim Saiki; Patricia Meunier-Lebouc; Helen Alfredsson
69-Gloria Park; Amy Hung; Lindsey Wright; Lorie Kane; Carin Koch; Brittany Lang
70-Brandie Burton; Young Kim; Titiya Plucksataporn; Suzann Pettersen; Marisa Baena; Christina Kim
71-Marcy Hart; Karine Icher; Il Mi Chung; Onnarin Sattayabanphot; Reilley Rankin; Shi Hyun Ahn; Silvia Cavalleri; Porani Chutichai; Sarah Lee; Nancy Scranton; Laura Diaz; Tracy Hanson; Cristie Kerr
74-Nontaya Srisawang; Aree Song