US golfers Angela Stanford and Ryann O’Toole yesterday shared the lead at seven-under 65 in the LPGA Tour’s Toto Japan Classic.
Stanford, 37, had eight birdies and a bogey in perfect conditions at Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club in the event also sanctioned by the Japan LPGA.
“My putter was hot. I think I had 24 total putts and that’s pretty close to a career low,” Stanford said. “I was reading the putts really well. I was seeing the line better than I have all year.”
O’Toole, 28, closed with a bogey on the par-four ninth after playing the previous seven holes in six-under, with an eagle and four birdies. She holed out from 108 yards from the rough for the eagle on the par-four fourth.
“This tournament is about making a lot of birdies,” said O’Toole, who is winless in her five-year tour career. “It’s very straightforward off the tee and the greens roll great. My whole mindset into the week was make as many birdies as possible, but stay in the moment.”
Japan’s Ai Suzuki was a stroke back along with South Koreans Kim Ha-neul, Lee Il-hee, Jenny Shin and Jeon Mi-Jeong. Third-ranked Stacy Lewis and No. 4 Lexi Thompson topped the group at 67.
Stanford won the last of her five LPGA Tour titles in 2012 and has only two top-10 finishes this season. She played a key role in the US’ Solheim Cup comeback with a victory over Suzann Pettersen.
“I haven’t been in this position much this year,” Stanford said. “It’s fun to go out and make birdies. I’m excited for the next two days.”
She played the first two Asian swing events in Malaysia and South Korea, then skipped Taiwan and China.
“It’s always good for me to have a couple of weeks off,” Stanford said. “It helped me go home and get motivated again. I did a lot of work in those two weeks. October in Texas is beautiful, so it was a really good time to work on my game.”
Lewis had six birdies and a late bogey.
“It’s nice to play it calm, because you can shoot a low number, but I would prefer it playing harder,” Lewis said. “I would prefer it windy. I think we’re going to get that here later in the week, so I don’t have to ask for it.”
Lewis won in 2012, overcoming a seven-stroke deficit with a final-round 64.
“I think the more you play this golf course the better you play it,” Lewis said. “You learn little things about it. It’s a comfort level.”
She tied for second last week in China, her sixth runner-up finish of the season and the 21st of her career. She won the last of her 11 LPGA Tour titles in June last year.
“The target is to go into Sunday near the lead,” Lewis said.
“I want to be in that last group on Sunday,” Lewis added.
Thompson won three weeks ago in South Korea for her second victory of the year.
“I didn’t hit it that great off the tee and got in the rough a little bit more than I wanted to, but I made some good putts,” Thompson said. “With seven-under leading after the first day, I know that I have to make more birdies and fire at pins.”
Thompson is making her first start in Japan.
“The Japanese fans have been great,” Thompson said. “They’ve been rooting me on after every hole.”
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng finished the round tied for eighth after carding a five-under 67, while compatriots Hsu Wei-ling and Min Lee were in a group of 12 tied for 20th on three-under 69. Kaohsiung-born Candie Kung of the US and Taiwan’s Teresa Lu finished play on two-under 70, among a group of 19 tied for 32nd.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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