HAVRE de GRACE, Md. - The McDonald's LPGA Championship will have a new, yet-to-be-determined home next year. Chances are few will miss it being at Bulle Rock any more than Nicole Castrale.
Three years ago, she opened with an 8-under-par 64 here, to take a two-shot lead. She followed with a 75, then injured her ankle after the round and went 74-76 over the weekend to finish in a tie for 34th. The last 2 years, she's tied for 10th.
In 10 tournaments this season, her best showing was a tie for 15th. And that was in early March in Thailand. Last week, she tied for 63rd. But yesterday, as if on cue, the 30-year-old California native threw a 65 on the board, which left her one ahead of Swedish rookie Anna Nordqvist after 18 holes of the year's second major.
"I like majors," said Castrale, whose best finish in the 13 she played in before was a tie for sixth at last July's U.S. Open. "I like it when you have to hit great shots. You have to stay extremely patient, and, really, that's my goal the next 3 days. Keep doing what I'm doing."
Her lone win came 2 years ago, at the inaugural and now-defunct Ginn Tribute, which knocked the Shop-Rite Classic in South Jersey off the schedule. But the last 18 months have been mostly a struggle.
"It's tough," Castrale said. "Nobody's expectations are going to be nearly as high as mine. It was a real fine line from moving to the top 10 in the world [rankings]. I may have regressed a little bit, but I've learned to grind, because I haven't had it.
"That's the biggest lesson I think I could have gained from all of this, and I'll get it back. It's just a matter of time. I'm working hard. I've got great people around me [including her husband/caddie Craig], so it will come. It's golf. It's a game. It isn't perfect. All I can do is my best."
Castrale shot 30 on the front side, something nobody had done on either nine since the event moved from Delaware in 2005. She added her seventh and eighth birdies of the round on Nos. 14 and 15, but closed with a bogey 5 at the home hole after putting her drive in the rough.
"I think it's finally coming together," she said. "It was a great feeling. That's the thing with golf. You can never say you've got it. Once you say [that], I don't think you [do]. You're always trying to get better out here. I'm fortunate Craig is out here with me. He sees what I can do and can't pull off, basically. He knows me probably better than I know myself . . .
"The golf course is playing very long. It's very wet. You can definitely fire at the pins, because the greens are receptive. What makes it tricky is, on a lot of these holes, you're coming in with mid- to long irons, to even some hybrids or fairway woods. You miss the fairway, you're going to get penalized. The rough is extremely healthy. Good luck getting on the green if you're in it. It should be tough. It's a major. You have to step up and hit good shots.
"Tomorrow I'm going to stand up on the 10th tee and try to hit it in the fairway. I can't go out there and compare [it with] what I did today. I mean, I may shoot 30 on the back nine and even on the front."
Which, of course, she and everybody else in the field would gladly take.
Nordqvist, who also started on No. 1, navigated the front in 32 (with her sole bogey, at No. 6) and the back in 34. This is her third major, and first as a professional. Her highest finish in four previous starts this season is a tie for 17th.
"The course is in such good shape, so if you're rolling your putts well, you can score out there," she said. "I lost some momentum at the turn. I had to wait a little bit [on the 10th tee]. But I was able to get back and finish strong [she birdied 14 and 17]. I had a lot of good opportunities. I've been putting good lately, so that really helps.
"Obviously, this is where you want to be. I haven't played that much, but I'm here to learn, just to have fun. It's just getting that balance with everything. Golf is my work now . . . There's 3 more days, and I really look forward to the week. I don't have many expectations this year. Just see where you end up."
China's Shanshan Feng is third, at 67. Seven are at 68: Paige Mackenzie, Ashleigh Simon, Amy Yang, Na Yeon Choi, Stacy Lewis, Moira Dunn and Aree Song. Of the top 10, only Castrale and Dunn have a victory.
"All I can do is keep trying to get better and see what happens," Castrale said.
Especially at this venue.