Key Takeaways from Round 1 at Baltusrol
South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace birdied the par-5 18th hole late Thursday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship to break the tie for first place and hold the overnight lead alone. The 42-year-old birdied five of the last 10 holes to shoot 5-under 66.
There is a three-way tie for second place as Ruoning Yin, Xiyu Lin and Brooke Henderson each shot 4-under 67. Thailand’s Wichanee Meechai is the only player at 3 under and six others are tied for sixth place after shooting 69.
Here are six things we learned from the opening round at Baltusrol.
Pace Set the Pace
Lee-Anne Pace turned pro in 2005. She’s ranked 193rd in the world. This is her 39th major championship. She only has one top-10 finish in the game’s biggest events, a tie for sixth place at the 2015 Evian Championship. She hasn’t played in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship since 2019.
Yes, it’s a surprise that Pace is at the top of the leaderboard. Even she is surprised. She’s played on the Ladies European Tour this year and only has one top-10 finish there but that was back in March.
“I haven't had the best season in Europe,” Pace said late Thursday after shooting 66 to take the lead. “Mainly because I didn't practice hard enough if I have to be completely honest.”
Pace started to practice more prior to her first LPGA start of the year at the ShopRite Classic two weeks ago, where she tied for 30th place. She’s continued to practice since then and says that she felt patient and comfortable with the putter the entire day.
“I feel very good that I'm so patient out there and calm, which is fantastic,” Pace said. “But obviously to come out here and play against the best in the world and post a score like that is going to be something I'll never forget.”
The Yin, Lin Connection
Ruoning Yin and Xiyu Lin are part of the group tied for second place at 4 under par. The two players from China have been friends for more than five years and Yin, 20, considers Lin, 27, to be her big sister.
But their relationship goes even deeper than that – Lin is Yin’s landlord. Yin is renting Lin’s house from her in Orlando.
“Unfortunately, we've been dealing with some draining problems, so when I see her, I always feel so sorry, not with the golf, but if like the toilet is clogged or something,” Lin said. “We finally fixed it like three weeks ago, which is great, so now we don't have any problems.”
Lin has not yet won on the LPGA, but her little sister, Yin, collected her first LPGA victory earlier this year at the DIO Implant L.A. Open in California. Lin, of course, was happy for Yin, but the victory did make her reconsider one thing.
“After she win, I'm like, ‘I need to raise the rent. It was way too low for you now,’” Lin joked.
Maguire Maintains Momentum
There is no victory hangover for Leona Maguire, as the winner of last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan continued her great form into Round 1. The 28-year-old from Ireland played her last six holes in 6 under par on Sunday in Michigan to shoot 64 and capture her second career LPGA title.
On Thursday, the conditions were much different than last week, but Maguire still remained steady, found fairways and avoided big mistakes. She got to 2 under after birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 and then made two bogeys and two birdies from there, including a birdie on the 473-yard, par-5 closing hole. She’s tied for sixth place after shooting 69.
“It's a completely different test,” Maguire said. “I think you had to drive the ball equally well last week I would say, but you were going gung-ho at a lot of pins. Today you had to be really disciplined. There was a few pins it was tempting to go at, but we just had to play a little bit more conservatively on a few of them and just two-putt and get out of there. Yeah, very different approach this week.”
Maguire said rest has been part of her routine this week, taking as many naps as possible to make sure she has enough energy to get through the week. She planned on another one Thursday, while the afternoon wave was playing.
Rose Keeps Rolling
Rose Zhang’s first round in a major as a professional went like most other rounds she’s played over the past few years. Last we saw the 20-year-old, she was winning her first professional start outside New York City at Liberty National. She outlasted Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff to earn the victory and LPGA membership.
Since then, she took finals to close out her semester at Stanford and moved out of her dorm. She hasn’t practiced as much as she wished coming into this week and did not have the best of starts in the first round, but she found her footing to rebound and shoot 1-under 70 to sit tied for 12th place.
“I'm very satisfied with how the score turned out,” she said. “Took a couple bumps in between to get there. I feel like my putting was a little bit off the entire way, but I also put myself in positions where I was giving myself 60-footers probably four or five holes in a row. This is just a tough golf course, and I really had to grind it out there.”
Zhang made bogeys on two of the first four holes to quickly get to 2 over, but then made three birdies the rest of the way.
Top Americans Have Work to Do
Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson are among the top names who need to rebound during the second round just to make the cut. Both players, ranked Nos. 2 and 9 respectively, shot 5-over 76 during the first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and are tied for 106th place.
Thompson played in the morning wave and had difficulty finding fairways and battled a balky putter for most of the round. She made three birdies in a four-hole stretch but otherwise made six birdies and a double bogey. Thompson has played in four LPGA events this year so far and has missed three cuts.
Korda hasn’t played in six weeks while dealing with a lower-back issue, which she said earlier this week is now healed. Playing in Thursday’s afternoon wave, she opened with a birdie on the first hole, then later made six birdies in a 12-hole stretch to drop down the leaderboard.
Borge Surprises on Day 1
One of the bigger surprises on the first day at Baltusrol was the play of Norway’s Celine Borge. The 24-year-old is ranked No. 228 in the world and is only playing in her second major championship. She missed the cut earlier this year at the Chevron Championship.
Borge won an event on the Epson Tour last year in Alabama and qualified for the LPGA from being sixth on that tour’s money list. Her LPGA debut was at the LPGA Drive on Championship at Superstition Mountain in March, where she tied for 14th place, which happens to be her best finish in 10 events.
Starting on the 10th hole, Borge birdied the 13th hole, then made the turn and birdies Nos. 2 and 5 to get to 3 under par. Her lone bogey of the day came on the par-3 ninth hole, her last of the day to shoot. 69.
“I tried to not think about it,” she said about her hot start. “Just tried to do my best on the next shot and see how it goes.”
A unique trait of Borge is that she does not have a permanent caddie, but rather opts to pick up a local caddie at each LPGA stop. So, yes, this week she’s using her 11th caddie this season with Corey Birch, who loops at Baltusrol.