CORNING, N.Y. (AP) — Nothing slowed Erica Blasberg, not even all the layers she was wearing at the start of the LPGA Corning Classic.
Blasberg shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday, a raw day more like early March than late May, to take a two-shot lead over Na On Min of South Korea and Karine Icher of France after the first round.
If this is the final Corning Classic for 51-year-old Sherri Turner, who’s contemplating retirement, she seems determined to leave her favorite tour stop on a positive note. The 1988 Corning champ shot a 4-under 68, only her second round in the 60s in six events this year, and was tied for fourth with Na Yeon Choi, Sandra Gal, and 2005 Corning champ Jimin Kang.
Another shot back among seven players was surprising Australian rookie Anna Rawson in only her fifth LPGA event. Rawson, who also is a model, equaled her best round this year – she also opened last week’s Sybase Classic with a 69 before a second-day 84 sent her packing.
Paula Creamer, runner-up here last year and the only player competing with a victory in 2008, never got her game going in tough conditions and finished at 2-under 70, four shots better than defending champ Young Kim.
Two-time Corning winner Rosie Jones, the only repeat champion of the event (1996-97), came out of retirement to help celebrate the tournament’s 30th anniversary. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Jones shot 2-over 74 in her first appearance on tour since the 2006 U.S. Open.
The elements made it a challenging day. No need for the customary Corning swing, that backhand motion players and spectators always have to make to shoo the pesky gnats that swarm the course each spring. The temperature was in the low 40s when play began under gray skies and players had to contend with intermittent rain instead.
When Creamer took her practice swings at the first tee, a steady drizzle was falling. And when she teed off moments later, the sun was threatening to break through, though that didn’t prompt her to discard the black earmuffs she was wearing.
By the time Creamer made the turn at 1 under, the earmuffs had been replaced by sunglasses as the sun broke through now and again. Still, the thermometer hovered around 50, winds began gusting to 20 mph, and Creamer finished her round in the rain, donning those earmuffs again.
“I had four shirts on pretty much the whole day,” said Creamer, who took last week off. “It’s difficult trying to keep your hands warm. You’re counting down the holes. I really wanted to hit some good shots down the stretch just to get my confidence. I think my mom, who has never played a hole of golf in her life, could have pitched better than I did.”
Through it all, Blasberg never flinched. The California native started at No. 10 and made three birdies before the turn that included a 30-foot putt at the par-4 13th hole. She went to 4 under with a tap-in birdie at No. 4, recovered from a bad tee shot at the fifth hole and made birdie from 10 feet, then hit 8-iron to 3 feet for another birdie at No. 6.
Blasberg completed her best round since turning pro in 2004 by making a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 9, just her 27th putt of the day. That left her atop the leaderboard, an uncustomary position for a player whose best career finish in 66 LPGA events was a tie for eighth at Turtle Bay in February.
“I don’t really put pressure on myself, like I have to get a win,” said Blasberg, a two-time All-American at Arizona and Pac-10 player of the year in 2003. “I know I’m playing good golf, and I know the more I work on my game, eventually it’ll come. The only thing that’s holding me back is those birdies that can save a round. It’s definitely in my mind, but I’m not going to dwell on it.”
This wasn’t as easy as her scorecard made it look.
“I was a little worried this morning when it was about 38. I started out with seven layers, and it wasn’t happening,” Blasberg said. “But my hand warmers are still working.”
Jones, a crowd favorite and the all-time leader in money won at Corning with more than a half-million dollars, retired because her aching body couldn’t withstand the rigors of the tour. For a player who relished hitting in the heat of summer, Jones did all right considering the conditions and long layoff.
“Everything is escalated when you get under the gun,” said Jones, who stumbled with bogey at the difficult par-4 first hole and never displayed the deft putting touch that helped her win more than $8 million on tour. “I didn’t hit the ball that solid, but I felt like I kept it up there. If I can just get the old putter rolling on these greens again. I’d love to make it for the weekend. That’s when it’s fun.”