WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — A week off did nothing to slow Lorena Ochoa down, and a month away from the game found Lindsey Wright in the same groove she was in before a vacation.
Ochoa picked up where she left off in winning two weeks ago in her native Mexico with eight birdies against one bogey Thursday. Her 7-under 64 gave her a one-shot lead over Wright after the first round of the Michelob Ultra Open.
“This is only the start,” said Ochoa, a three-time runner-up in the event. “We have three more days. One at a time.”
Wright, a non-winner in five seasons, hadn’t played since finishing fourth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major in the first week in April, but was bogey-free on the soggy 6,315-yard River Course at Kingsmill that has received rain for several days.
Hee-Won Han, Sarah Lee and Minea Blomqvist shot 66s to share third place, Seon Hwa Lee, Na Yeon Choi and Amy Yang had 67s and 2007 champion Suzann Pettersen was among seven at 68.
In all, 45 of 144 players took advantage of the soft greens and broke par.
Other notables making a run at the leaderboard included 2005 winner Cristie Kerr, who got to 4 under but then stumbled to finish at 2 under; rookie Vicky Hurst, who got to 4 under but gave two shots back on her last four holes; and another rookie, Michelle Wie, who got to 3 under after her first 12 holes, but had two bogeys coming in to finish six shots back.
The rainy start and sometimes gusting wind seemed to be of little consequence to Ochoa, the world’s top-ranked player. She made three birdie putts of 17 feet or longer while working on her putting alignment and said she’s starting to feel more comfortable on the greens.
“That was a big change for me because I didn’t feel comfortable aiming to the hole,” Ochoa said of her old putting style, which had her coming across the ball instead of hitting it head on. “It didn’t feel right in the beginning, but now I’m seeing a lot of good results.”
She finished with a flourish, hitting a booming drive on the 382-yard, par-14 18th that left her with about 100 yards to the flagstick, and then an approach to about 12 feet.
Wright was spectacular early – she chipped in from the back fringe from 25 feet and made two 20-footers for birdies on her first nine, and later made three birdie putts inside 5 feet.
Not bad considering she started the day feeling “dodgy” and out of sorts with a new caddy, was in and out of her rain gear several times and still posted her best round this year.
“I hate to say it, but I will say it because it’s not everyday you get to say, `I had an easy 6 under,”’ Wright said, laughing. Her best of 22 previous rounds this year was 69 twice.
She practiced sparingly during her break, Wright said, but a workout routine that she started last year to help her work through shoulder injuries has helped immeasurably.
“I think it just affects every aspect,” she said. “It really does boost you up a bit.”
Makable missed putts, on the other hand, can drag a player down, and Seon Hwa Lee said she missed three from about 10 feet, but still came away smiling after her bogey-free 67.
She started her round by hitting her approach on the par-4 10th to inches away for a tap-in birdie, added three more birdies from no further away than 12 feet away and knew she could have gone much lower had she not made par at all three par 5s, typical scoring holes.
“I think tomorrow I’ll be better,” she said.
It will have to be better for a few former champions to stick around past Friday.
Se Ri Pak, the 2004 winner, had four bogeys and no birdies in opening with a 75 and Karrie Webb, who won by seven shots here two years ago, had only one birdie in a 74.