PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Yani Tseng isn’t accustomed to this: 4-over par in an LPGA Tour major.
Luckily for the 23-year-old Taiwanese star, the winner of five majors already, there are three rounds to play on a course she dominated a year ago.
Tseng is chasing a trio of unlikely leaders in Beatriz Recari, Ryann O’Toole, and Giulia Sergas, who each shot 3-under 69 on Thursday to tie after the opening round of the LPGA Championship.
Despite matching her worst score of the year at 76, Tseng, the top women’s player in the world, was only seven shots off the lead after a round that included six bogeys and only two birdies.
“I just couldn’t hit a shot, couldn’t hit on the green, couldn’t hit on the fairway,” Tseng said. “
It was really tough for me out there. I was very disappointed. I love the golf course and I know I can have a low score here.”
She did just that a year ago, shooting 19 under and winning by 10 shots. Duplicating the feat will be a challenge if she doesn’t snap out of her recent slump. In the Sybase Match Play Championship, she was knocked out in the round of 16, and last week tied for 12th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway Township, N.J. — nine strokes behind winner Stacy Lewis.
“I know it’s my mental problem,” said Tseng, who won three of the first five tournaments on the LPGA Tour this year. “I’m hitting so well on the driving range, and when I get on the first tee there’s something wrong. I need to get my mental setup like before at the beginning of this year.”
The second major of the season was shaping up as a tight affair. Only 16 players broke par on a sun-splashed day that had only the hint of a breeze, and there was a virtual logjam behind the leaders.
Jeong Jang reached 5 under but bogeyed four of her final five holes to finish in a tie at 70 with Mika Miyazato, Cristie Kerr, Se Ri Pak, Na Yeon Choi, Ai Miyazato, and Paula Creamer. Lewis, who has won two of her last three starts, had a 72.
Michelle Wie, trying to break out of a season-long slump, opened with a 74.
Hitting it straight off the tee is always critical on the narrow Locust Hill Country Club course, especially this year because the rough is measurably more difficult than it’s been in the past.
“It’s just gobbling up the golf balls,” said Kerr, the winner by a record 12 strokes in 2010. “Even with sand wedges, it’s a lot tougher.”
Tseng, who started at No. 10, had three bogeys on the difficult back nine, managing to hit just two fairways before making the turn.
One of Tseng’s birdies came at the par-4 third hole, but she gave it right back at No. 5, an uphill par 3. Lewis made a tap-in birdie after a brilliant tee shot and Creamer settled for par after lipping out a long birdie try, but Tseng’s tee shot had sailed well past the pin and she three-putted for bogey after leaving her initial putt well short of the hole.
Tseng hit six of 14 fairways and needed 30 putts.
“I didn’t play well. The course is pretty easy out there with no wind,” Tseng said. “It was really tough. I didn’t make putts. If you can’t hit it on the fairway on this course, it’s kind of tough to hit a low score. I was very surprised the scores didn’t go very low today, so at least I have a little chance to get it back tomorrow.”
Recari, from Spain, bogeyed No. 11, her second hole, made great par saves at the next two holes, then rolled in three straight birdies to make the turn at 2 under.
“It definitely feels great. It feels almost relieving because I have been playing really well for a long time,” Recari said. “The scores didn’t happen the way I wanted. I would sum up the round as very confident off the tee. I had a great feeling on the greens. I was just seeing the line, putting a good stroke and most of them dropped in.”
Kerr had four birdies on the front nine, using her 7-iron to set up three of them. After driving into the rough at the par-5 fourth hole, she hit to 8 feet and made birdie, then sank a 3-foot putt for birdie at No. 5 and made the turn at 3 under after a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 9.
Three bogeys, the last at the par-5 17th hole after she hooked her second shot under a tree in the rough, put something of a damper on her round. Kerr was pleased with the result, nonetheless.
“I just managed well. I ended up being patient, and I’m happy with that,” said Kerr, who finished her round with a nifty chip for a par save. “If I got in trouble, I played smart, which is what you have to do.”
Pak, sidelined since early April with a slight tear in the labrum of her left shoulder, bogeyed Nos. 3 and 6 to start, then reeled off three straight birdies to start the back nine and move up the leaderboard.
“I feel great to be back,” Pak said. “I never expected it would be a solid round today. I’m trying to get the feel for it. Low expectations help a lot. Even though I feel 100 percent perfect, you never know.”
Cheyenne Woods, niece of Tiger Woods and playing on a sponsor’s exemption, shot a 3-over 75 in her first event as a professional. Woods, who played here as an amateur in 2009, also qualified last week for the U.S. Women’s Open and was beaming despite an erratic round.
“I’ve been waiting, waiting for this moment. I couldn’t wait to get out here,” said Woods, who had three birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey. “I was a little nervous starting off, but it felt good to be out there and finally playing.
“I’m pretty happy with how I played. I had a few blips. There’s a lot more eyes on me right now, but I’ve been having to deal with media for a long time having the last name of Woods. It’s nothing I’m not used to.”
Kerr also shot 19 under in her blowout victory in 2010. After one round and with that thick rough beckoning at every turn, another runaway didn’t seem so likely.
“It’s a lot tougher,” she said.