GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — One of the first golfers to tee off in the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Friday at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club posted a score that nobody beat.
Japan native Mika Miyazato, who teed off at 7:15 a.m. as part of the tournament’s first group, fired a 6-under-par 65 on the Bay Course.
That was good enough for a share of the lead with Stacy Lewis after the first round of the $1.5 million tournament. They both hold a two-shot advantage over Paula Creamer, who used an eagle on the 18th hole to card a 4-under 67, and Colombia native Mariajo Uribe.
“I’ve played in the first group before, but I never played that well,” said the 22-year-old Miyazato, who is from Okinawa and now lives in Bradenton, Fla.
When Miyazato and playing partners Courtney Harter and Tiffany Joh began their round, the bleachers and luxury boxes surrounding the 18th green were empty. The entire course was virtually deserted except for some curious seagulls and a few maintenance workers doing last-second touchups and stocking the concession stands.
The course marshals assigned to hold up the “Quiet Please” signs around each green had no one to admonish until Miyazato and company were on the back nine. When Miyazato putted out for par on the 18th, about 100 spectators congratulated her with polite applause.
“I like it when there are more people around,” said Miyazato, who is no relation to 2010 ShopRite winner Ai Miyazato. “I usually play better in front of big crowds.”
Because Mika Miyazato started so early, she was also able to play in relatively tame conditions. The sun was shining and a warm breeze was not much of a factor in shot selection.
All of her putts were rolling true since there were no ball marks or indentations from other players’ spikes.
“We had very good greens and didn’t have to wait until the last few holes,” said Miyazato’s caddie, Columbus, Ohio, resident Chad Payne. “But I’m not surprised she played well. She’s been hitting the ball great for the last three, four or five weeks but just couldn’t get the ball into the hole. She’s got a lot of confidence right now.”
Miyazato is in her fourth full season on the LPGA Tour. Her best finish was third place in a 2010 touranment in Arkansas.
On Friday, she earned four birdies, including a near hole-in-one on the 17th, to go with her first eagle of the season on No. 9.
Her shot on the 115-yard 17th trickled past the pin and stopped about a foot away for a tap-in birdie.
“Hole 15 is the only one where you win a car for a hole-in-one,” Miyazato said with a laugh. “So tomorrow.”
Lewis’ 65 was perhaps more impressive, considering the conditions when her group was on the course. The 27-year-old Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., resident began on No. 10 at 8:55 a.m. — almost two hours later than Miyazato — and completed her last nine holes under dark clouds and a brisk wind. Of the 20 players who broke par Friday, 14 teed off before 10 a.m.
Lewis, No. 7 in the Rolex World Rankings, was unfazed, however. She birdied No. 1, then rebounded from a double-bogey on the second hole to eagle No. 3.
“Our first nine holes were pretty nice,” said Lewis, who is striving for her second tour victory this season. “Then we made the turn onto No. 1 and the wind came out of nowhere and things got a little crazy. It’s hard because with the way the wind is blowing, it’s hard to trust where the ball is going to go.
“I haven’t played well in the past here, so this round really gives me confidence. I’ve been playing well all year and confidence is everything to me right now. It’s fun to just go out there and play and not have to worry about my golf swing or anything else.”
Miyazato and Lewis could have a tough time staying ahead of Creamer today and Sunday. Although the 25-year-old Creamer grew up in Pleasanton, Calif., and lives in Orlando, she always feels at home on Seaview’s Bay Course.
She first played in the ShopRite on a sponsor’s exemption as a 17-year-old amateur in 2004 and finished tied for second behind Cristie Kerr. Two years ago, she finished seventh in her first tournament back after undergoing surgery on her left thumb.
“I like this course because you have shape the ball and use creativity,” Creamer said. “That, to me, is what golf is all about and always has been. I like courses like this where you have to think your way around instead of just taking driver and pounding it down the middle.”
Creamer, No. 13 in the Rolex rankings, closed her first round on a high note that should bolster her confidence heading into the last two rounds.
She was hovering at 2-under par until sinking a 6-foot putt on 18 for an eagle. Creamer pumped her fist in celebration and waved to a larger crowd as she made her way to the scorer’s tent.
The ShopRite Classic continues today. The top 70 players plus ties will compete in the final round Sunday.
“I think these three-day tournaments are harder than the four-day ones because if you start off on the wrong foot, you’re chasing (other golfers) the whole time,” Creamer said. “It puts a premium on having to put three good rounds together. Because of that, you have to have a different mindset and be a little bit more aggressive. I like it.”
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