Kerr, Kongkraphan, Woods tie course record to share first-round lead

CAMBRIDGE, Ont. — Cristie Kerr, K.P. Kongkraphan and rookie Cheyenne Woods were on fire at Whistle Bear Golf Club on Thursday, tying the course record of 9-under par 63 to share a one-shot lead after the first round at the Manulife LPGA Classic.

The trio ate up the 6,613-yard course, taking advantage of the lack of wind to top the 150-player field. They matched the score of Jon Mills and Matt Bettencourt, who both shot 63 at the Cambridge course during the Nationwide Tour’s Canadian PGA Championship in 2005.

Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, had eight birdies — five of those in the final nine holes — with an eagle and one bogey. It was quite the turnaround for Woods, who missed the last five cuts at tournaments.

“I played really solid all day,” said Woods.

It’s just the second time this season that Woods has shot under 70, and bettered her LPGA career-best round of 65.

“I had one bogey, which was a stupid three putt, but overall I played solid,” said Woods. “And I think the biggest thing, we were just having fun out there, Jaye Marie (Green) and I were talking the whole day and it was very relaxed atmosphere while we were playing. That’s sometimes when I play my best and I guess it worked out.”

Kerr started off her day 7-under par after nine holes, but cooled off after making the turn, with three birdies and a bogey. She credited her round to seeing her swing coach on Monday.

“You’re not going to birdie every hole,” said Kerr. “I mean, if I did the same thing I did on the front, I would have shot in the 50s. That would have been huge, but they’re very rare so you’ve just got to try to do the best that you can.”

Thailand’s Kongkraphan made a late charge to hop into a share of the lead, shooting birdies on the final three holes. That capped off a day with 10 birdies and one bogey, which she said gave her momentum heading into the second round.

“I hit the ball very solid today. My tee shot is working very well and I tried to work on my wedges and worked very good today,” said Kongkraphan.

Israel’s Laetitia Beck and Sandra Gal, of Germany, sit one back of the leaders at 8-under par 64. Beck, who is ranked 119th in the world, bettered her career-best round by six shots.

“The course is in great shape, so if you hit your shots to the green the way you want to, it pretty much does whatever you know, it just stops,” said Beck.

Beck, in unfamiliar territory, is also feeling the heat from Sei Young Kim, former Manulife champion Brittany Lang, Julieta Granada, Mariajo Uribe and Anna Nordqvist at 7-under par 65. Nordqvist put together a round of seven birdies, an eagle and two bogeys to put herself in early contention less than a week after winning the Shoprite LPGA Classic in New Jersey.

“Obviously the last week gave me a lot of confidence and I played so well today, hit the ball really well, gave myself a lot of opportunities and that’s what you have to do at this course,” said Nordqvist.

Nine players are tied at 6 under to round out the top 20.

The top Canadian on the day was Alena Sharp, who carded a 5-under par 67. The Hamilton, Ont. native started off slow, admitting she was nervous playing less than an hour from home, but managed to reel off five straight birdies to put her at 6-under par at the time. The damage of double bogey on the 17th hole was lessened when she finished with a birdie.

“I kind of got into a coast zone where I was hitting fairways and greens,” said Sharp. “I really got target focused and I kind of just got this momentum flow going on and I birdied five in a row. It was amazing. I haven’t done that all year.”

Following Sharp were Natalie Gleadall of Stratford, Ont., who was one of two players that advanced to the Manulife Classic from the Monday qualifier, at 4 under, and Toronto’s Sue Kim at 3 under.

Brooke Henderson of Smith Falls, Ont., Quebec’s Sara-Maude Juneau and Toronto’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham are tied at 1 under, while Brittany Henderson, Jennifer Kirby, from Paris, Ont. and Lorie Kane of Prince Edward Island, shot even par 72. Augusta James, who also qualified for the tournament on Monday, finished at 4 over.

Bill Doucet, The Canadian Press