By Wendell Gibson
First Posted: 10/28/2011
TAMPA, Fla. — Minjee Lee overcame a slow start and a nervous start, scored an eagle on her final hole and finished with a 6-under 66 to take a two-shot lead after the first round of the Saudi Ladies International Friday at the Asian Golf Club.
“I played good all day,” said Lee, a South Korean born to Australian parents. “It was rough on my back nine, bogeying two holes and then (shots) four-over. It took me a long time to get back to my par-5s.”
She didn’t need much time. Lee posted three straight birdies on Nos. 4-6 to get back to even, then birdied the ninth hole and reached 4-under with an eagle at the 10th hole.
On the par-5 18th, Lee hit a 9-iron to 4 feet and sank the putt to start a seven-birdie round. It was her first top-10 finish of the year, and she had finished third in last year’s ANA Inspiration in California.
Lee will return today to defend her title.
“The golf course is really tough,” she said. “My caddie said if you win that, you have to come back. We are getting better.”
Lee is one of several early lead-conservers, along with Rickie Fowler and Stacy Lewis.
Fowler, a 21-year-old Florida native whose family moved to the area when he was 3, led by two shots after six holes. He dropped five shots in his next six holes and never recovered. He shot a 70.
“We knew we were going to hit that one bad hole,” Fowler said of his wayward tee shot at No. 12, which went into the water and put a damper on his round. “And you just try to work through it as best you can. There were just too many shots you wanted to make, and it didn’t happen.”
Lewis birdied her first two holes to take a two-shot lead at the turn. But after a bogey at No. 10, she failed to convert her final five birdie chances. Lewis shot a 71.
“I had been playing so well, so I was so bummed,” Lewis said. “I was definitely feeling good about the way my game was trending.”
Other early starters included Western Illinois’ Annika Sorenstam, last year’s champion, who shot a 73, and Asia Pacific’s Noh Seung-yul, another defending champion who shot a 73.
The tournament will end Saturday.