Ireland’s Leona Maguire is firmly in the mix in the first Major of the year, after she carded a fine opening round of 67 in the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage in California.
Maguire’s round leaves her on five under par and in a share of second place alongside China’s Shanshan Feng, with Thailand’s Paphangkorn Tavatanakit one shot clear on six under.
26-year-old Maguire got her round off to a white-hot start with back-to-back birdies on the first and second holes, before giving a stroke back with her only bogey of the day on the par four third.
She rediscovered her spark with a birdie on the ninth however and after the turn enjoyed a stunning back nine, with birdies on 12, 15 and 18 leaving her in a strong position heading into Friday’s second round.
Stephanie Meadow, too, made a strong start in the tournament: the Northern Irishwoman shot an opening round of one-under-par 71, which featured three birdies – at the second, ninth and 14th – along with two bogeys, at the third and 15th, to get off to a solid beginning in the Californian desert.
For the 31-year-old Chinese player Feng, who hadn’t played competitively since the 2019 Tour Championship after deciding not to travel anywhere last year as Covid-19 impacted around the globe, her return to competition brought a stunning reward in moving to within one stroke of the lead held by Thailand’s Tavatanakit.
Feng has 23 career wins around the globe in a career which so far has yielded one Major title, the 2012 US LPGA Championship.
She claimed most of her thoughts over the past year had been what to have for breakfast, then lunch and then dinner, but the former world number one ranked player showed there was no rustiness from any lack of competition as she immediately jumped into contention.
On the PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth’s revival in form – having fallen as low as 92nd in the world rankings as recently as January – continued on familiar terrain at TPC San Antonio as he signed for an opening round 67, five-under-par, in the Valero Texas Open, his final outing ahead of next week’s Masters tournament.
Spieth is three off the lead of Colombia’s Camilo Villegas, who shot the lights out with a 64 to take a two stroke lead from Korea’s Sung-Hoon Kang and America’s Cameron Tringale.
Graeme McDowell, however, failed to carry on the momentum of a top-five finish in last week’s Corales Puntacana tournament in Dominican Republic and opened with a two-over-par 74 that is likely to see him fighting to survive the midway cut. McDowell is one of those players in the field seeking a win to claim the last exemption into the Masters.
Spieth’s improved form of late – four top-10s in his last six outings on tour – has come at a good time, with the Masters looming, but he confessed that the opening round was hardly his best in terms of ball-striking to the point he was required to play a provisional on the ninth, his closing hole.
It led to an honest conversation with his caddie Michael Greller as the wild tee-shot went AWOL. “I was telling him, ‘man, I just can’t find the centre of the face right now’. I hit that one as much off the heel as the one before, just make sure I was playing draw versus fade. It was just an off day on contact,” said Spieth, who hit the range in an effort to “clean it up a little bit.”
As he expanded: “I’ve got all afternoon to figure that out on the range. I had really bad contact today. Normally, even if I don’t necessarily strike the ball well, normally I’m hitting it close to the middle of the face. I mean, the right ones are because I hit some toe balls on the front nine and now I’m playing fade and you don’t want to toe it. So I hit it off the heel and those are going to spin over.
“So it just got a little bit off there today off the tee on contact. The rest of the swing, I mean, I feel like I’m swinging the same and out in front of it and putting a good move on it. When you’re off by five, six millimetres off of contact on either side, it will affect that ball flight and get you thinking a little more.”
Meanwhile the in-form Scottie Scheffler who continued the momentum of his play at the WGC-Dell Technologies where he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel.
Scheffler opened with a 68 – six birdies, two bogeys – to move into contention. “I felt like I played pretty solid overall. I made a few silly mistakes here and there, kind of two sloppy bogeys, but other than that I felt I played really solid,” said Scheffler, who is seeking his first win on tour.
Pádraig Harrington continued his hectic schedule but showed no signs of any tiredness, as he moved to three-under on his round through 12 holes.
Collated first round scores & totals in theLPGA Tour ANA Inspiration (USA unless stated, Par 72):
66 Paphangkorn Tavatanakit (Tha)
67 Shanshan Feng (Chn), Leona Maguire (Irl)
68 Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha), Anna Nordqvist (Swe), Moriya Jutanugarn (Tha), Megan Khang
69 Mi-Rim Lee (Kor), Jin-Young Ko (Kor), Georgia Hall (Eng), Bronte Law (Eng), Jessica Korda, Jennifer Kupcho, Charley Hull (Eng), Yuka Saso (Phi)
70 Ind-Bee Park (Kor), Lydia Ko (Nzl), Alexis Thompson, Sophia Popov (Ger), Amy Yang (Kor), Cheyenne Knight, Carlota Ciganda (Spa), Azahara Munoz (Spa), Christina Kim, Pornanong Phatlum (Tha), Gerina Piller, Michelle Wie, Daniela Holmqvist (Swe), Sarah Kemp (Aus)
71 Jeon-Geun Lee (Kor), Sung-Hyun Park (Kor), Hannah Green (Aus), Nelly Korda, Mi-Jung Hur (Kor), Madelene Sagstroem (Swe), Melissa Reid (Eng), Ally Ewing, Yu Liu (Chn), Jenny Shin (Kor), Kelly Tan (Mal), Stephanie Meadow (NIrl), Sarah Schmelzel, Lauren Stephenson, Yui Kawamoto (Jpn), Nicole Broch Larsen (Den), Ryann O’Toole, Jaye Marie Green
72 Pernilla Lindberg (Swe), Som-Yeon Ryu (Kor), Brittany Lang, Sei-Young Kim (Kor), Danielle Kang, Hinako Shibuno (Jpn), Angela Stanford, Min-Jee Lee (Aus), Eun-Hee Ji (Kor), Gabriela Ruffels (Aus), Jennifer Song, Jodi Ewart (Eng), Perrine Delacour (Fra), Cristie Kerr, Xiyu Lin (Chn), Kristen Gillman, Nanna Koerstz Madsen (Den), Alena Sharp (Can), Hyo-Joo Kim (Kor), Pajaree Anannarukarn (Tha), Angel Yin, Caroline Inglis
73 Brittany Lincicome, Ind-Gee Chun (Kor), Gaby Lopez (Mex), Hee-Young Park (Kor), Austin Ernst, Aline Krauter (Ger), Katherine Kirk (Aus), Maria Torres (Pur), Mi-Hyang Lee (Kor), Amy Olson, Ashleigh Buhai (Rsa), Caroline Masson (Ger), Ayako Uehara (Jpn), Jing Yan (Chn), Aditi Ashok (Ind)
74 Marina Alex, Cydney Clanton, Lizette Salas, Maria Fassi (Mex), Chella Choi (Kor), Robynn Ree, Harukyo Nomura (Jpn), Su-Hyun Oh (Aus)
75 Brooke Henderson (Can), Nasa Hataoka (Jpn), Thidapa Suwannapura (Tha), Celine Boutier (Fra), Linnea Stroem (Swe), Lindsey Weaver, Brittany Altomare, Bianca Pagdanganan (Phi), Tiffany Joh, Jennifer Chang
76 Stacy Lewis, A-Lim Kim (Kor), In-Kyung Kim (Kor), Yealimi Noh, Andrea Lee, Emma Talley, Emily Kristine Pedersen (Den), Marissa Steen
77 Yani Tseng (Tai), Morgan Pressel, Annie Park, Wei Ling Hsu (Tai), Jennifer Coleman, Albane Valenzuela (Swi)
78 Mina Harigae, Erika Hara (Jpn), Jane Park
Collated first round scores & totals in the USPGA Tour Valero Texas Open (USA unless stated, Par 72):
64 Camilo Villegas (Col),
66 Sung-Hoon Kang (Kor), Cameron Tringale
67 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Seung-Yul Noh (Kor), Jordan Spieth
68 Tom Hoge, Sebastian Munoz (Col), Scottie Scheffler
69 Kevin Stadler, Matt Wallace (Eng), Vincent Whaley
70 Rafael Cabrera (Spa), Adam Hadwin (Can), Brandon Hagy, Padraig Harrington (Irl), Matt Kuchar, Pat Perez, Brendan Steele, Martin Trainer, Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor)
71 Keegan Bradley, Wesley Bryan, Corey Conners (Can), Cameron Davis (Aus), Zach Johnson, Patton Kizzire, Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Denny McCarthy, Ryan Moore, Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Kyle Stanley, Sepp Straka (Aut), Vaughn Taylor, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Gary Woodland
72 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Akshay Bhatia, Joseph Bramlett, K. J. Choi (Kor), Jason Dufner, Brice Garnett, Will Gordon, John Huh, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Chris Kirk, Martin Laird (Sco), Keith Mitchell, Ryan Palmer, Doc Redman, Chase Seiffert, Roger Sloan (Can), Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker, Rafael Campos (Pur)
73 Ryan Brehm, Tyler Duncan, Tony Finau, Michael Gligic (Can), Lucas Glover, Chesson Hadley, Scott Harrington, David Hearn (Can), Charles Howell III, Tom Lewis (Eng), Luke List, Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Matthew NeSmith, D. A. Points, Brian Stuard, Nick Taylor (Can), Harold Varner III, Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Danny Willett (Eng), Ben Martin, Greyson Sigg, Tain Lee
74 Ryan Armour, Sebastian Cappelen (Den), Joel Dahmen, Doug Ghim, Harry Higgs, Beau Hossler, Russell Knox (Sco), Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Adam Schenk, D. J. Trahan, Bo Van Pelt, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Kristoffer Ventura (Nor), Sam Fidone
75 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Sam Burns, Kevin Chappell, Branden Grace (Rsa), Lanto Griffin, Charley Hoffman, Kelly Kraft, Andrew Landry, Davis Love III, Patrick Rodgers, Sam Ryder, Carlos Sainz Jr., Robby Shelton, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Aaron Wise
76 Scott Brown, Bronson Burgoon, Rickie Fowler, Brian Gay, Rhein Gibson (Aus), Kramer Hickok, Bo Hoag, Michael Kim, Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Nate Lashley, Hank Lebioda, Troy Merritt, Cameron Percy (Aus), Ted Potter Jr.
77 Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Cameron Champ, Luke Donald (Eng), Austin Eckroat, Jim Furyk, Danny Lee (Nzl), Mac Meissner, Rob Oppenheim, Andrew Putnam, Scott Stallings
78 Austin Cook, J. B. Holmes, Henrik Norlander (Swe), J. J. Spaun, Joseph James Killeen
79 Phil Mickelson, Xinjun Zhang (Chn), Nick Watney
80 Sam Bennett
83 Sean O’Hair
85 Patrick Grimes