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Castrale takes early LPGA lead

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Nicole Castrale went low in the opening round of the McDonald's LPGA Championship one time before yesterday, but ended that weekend limping out of town.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - Nicole Castrale went low in the opening round of the McDonald's LPGA Championship one time before yesterday, but ended that weekend limping out of town.

The 30-year-old Californian hopes to avoid taking a bad step this year, especially after her 7-under-par 65 in the first round of the second major tournament of the LPGA season put her in front by a stroke over rookie Anna Nordqvist of Sweden at Bulle Rock Golf Course.

Castrale bogeyed the 18th hole to lose a chance at matching her career low of 64, a score she initially shot in the first round of the 2006 event here. She followed that start with a 75 in the second round and then entered the LPGA fitness trailer for some quick treatment.

After she left the trailer, however, Castrale stepped on a drain and rolled her left ankle. She hobbled around the course posting scores of 74 and 76 the next two days, and turned what had been a promising tournament into a tie for 34th place.

"I went back to the trailer to get the ankle treated, and when I got home, my husband saw me and said, 'Oh, God, what happened?' " said Castrale, referring to Greg Castrale, who also is her caddie. "It ended up hurting for about two or three months."

Castrale came back to Bulle Rock the next two years and finished in a tie for 10th both times. So she harbors no ill feelings over what happened three years ago.

"I'm a huge believer that everything happens for a reason," she said. "I know that we're all going to face challenges in our life and we're all going to be stronger in the end."

Castrale and her husband are one of several wife-husband, player-caddie teams on the LPGA Tour, and the two worked effectively yesterday on a 6,641-yard course playing long because of wet fairways.

She got off to a great start, with birdies on her first two holes fueling a front-nine score of 30, a record for the five years the event has been played at Bulle Rock. She added birdies at the 14th and 15th holes to get to 8 under but bogeyed No. 18 after hitting her tee shot into heavy rough.

"If you miss the fairway, you're going to get penalized because the rough is extremely healthy, and good luck getting on the green if you're in it," she said. "It's a major. It should be tough. You should be penalized if you miss the fairway."

The leader board after the first round largely defied expectations, with eight career non-winners on the Tour among the top 10. China's Shanshan Feng shot a 67 for third place, and a seven-way tie at 68 included young Americans Stacy Lewis and Paige Mackenzie.

Michelle Wie, who surged with three birdies on the back nine, was involved in an eight-way tie at 70 with Inbee Park, the defending U.S. Women's Open champion, and Angela Stanford, the tour's No. 7 money winner.

"I missed a couple of short putts early on, but it was good, too," Wie said. "I've been working on my putting a lot, so hopefully it's a lot better."

Meanwhile, the top players struggled. Cristie Kerr, the Tour's leading money winner, shot a 76. Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa matched par at 72 in a group that included past champions Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb.

Defending champion Yani Tseng came in with a 73, and Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel were at 74.

That left second place to Nordqvist, who turned 22 Wednesday, played two years at Arizona State, and turned pro after the LPGA Qualifying Tournament. She carded seven birdies in posting her career-low round. Nordqvist said she was continuing to adjust to her life as a Tour rookie.

"You've got to learn to live this lifestyle," she said. "Traveling that much, not being home, you play week after week. That's something that's new to me. In college, you play a tournament, you have a week or week and a half off before you go to the next one. I think the biggest lesson is balancing everything."

Lisa Strom, a graduate of Lansdale Catholic High School, came in with a 76 that she said should have been better. "I gave myself some good looks at birdie on the final holes and just couldn't get anything to go in," she said.