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Shin leads ShopRite by stroke after blustery first round

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - On a windswept course bordered by wiry fescue and bounded by slick, drying greens, she who drove it straight played great.

Jiyai Shin hits a tee shot on the 18th hole during first round play at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. (Mel Evans/AP)
Jiyai Shin hits a tee shot on the 18th hole during first round play at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. (Mel Evans/AP)Read more

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - On a windswept course bordered by wiry fescue and bounded by slick, drying greens, she who drove it straight played great.

Woe be to her who did not.

Jiyai Shin hit 13 of 14 fairways and rode a well-worn putter, needing only 28 putts, to card a routine, 5-under-par 66 in the first round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Sandra Gal, who played in Shin's threesome in a replay of the Kia Classic in March, settled into second, one shot back. Gal blasted out of a plugged lie in a bunker to tap in at 15 and backsided a 10-foot birdie putt on 18 to hang with Shin. She hit 11 fairways.

Both appeared simply to ignore the wind, which gusted to 25 mph at the Seaview resort's Bay Course. Their accuracy helped them keep it out of the, er, shin-high grass. That's typical for the leader.

"A lot of players said, 'This is your course,' " Shin said of the 6,155-yard track. "It's not long. I'm not a long hitter."

She is, now, a good putter; her downhill, break-back 30-footer on the par-4 No. 2, one of the course's testers, is a result of maniacal commitment to practicing, as much as 8 hours a day. She knew this tournament could be hers if she was healthy.

Shin busted a gut to get here . . . sort of. Last year, Shin missed the event after an emergency appendectomy. She was the world's No. 1 player at that time, with eight career wins and a major championship.

Now, she's No. 3 in the world. She might be higher had she not been outdueled over the last two rounds playing alongside Gal at the Kia. Gal triumphed with a dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole.

That winning putt made Gal a star in her native Germany, where, in May, she was feted to distraction at the UniCredit Ladies German Open and finished seventh. Almost 40,000 fans flocked to see her, and the days before the tournament essentially were 16-hour media sessions.

Her showdown with Shin and the attention in her homeland made yesterday's pressure much more bearable.

"Every fairway was packed with people, and all the media there . . . It couldn't get much 'worse,' " Gal said, laughing, delighted at the distraction.

Like the top pair, the other golfers who tasted a measure of competence hit it straight. It's as if the players who teed off later in the day braced themselves for tough conditions.

The first threesome of the day carded a combined 26-over, led by Birdie Kim's 14, with matching 6s from famous teen Lexi Thompson and Pernilla Lindberg. The group did not have a birdie.

However, a later start did not ensure better scoring. Mays Landing native Joanna Coe, making her professional debut, teed off in the midafternoon and triple-bogeyed her first hole en route to a 15-over.

Coe, in the field on a sponsor's exemption, could not recall the last time she was 15-over with an 86. Playing in front of friends and family clearly rattled her.

"I let it get to me a little bit," Coe said.

Last year, Coe played in the tournament by qualifying as an amateur on Monday but missed the 36-hole cut. The same fate likely awaits her as a pro today.

Her round yesterday was a smorgasbord of scoring: an eagle, a birdie, six pars, six bogeys, two doubles, a triple-bogey and a quintuple-bogey. She teed off last and finished her first professional day at the back of the pack.

"It wasn't 'Joanna golf,' " she insisted.

Yesterday, rounds routinely took 5 1/2 hours as players struggled with club selection, searched for balls in the fescue and puttered around greens that needed occasional syringing.

"The pace of play was pathetic," said veteran Catriona Matthew, who is from Scotland, where quick play is a national edict.

It's hard to play fast, she allowed, when players are swinging their clubs so often, as only 13 players finished under par. Cristie Kerr, the 2004 winner here, hardly noticed the slow play en route to her 2-under day, a nice finish after a 2-over start through eight. She hit every fairway, but, since her partners did not, Kerr noticed the change in the landscaping.

"They've grown the fescue up a lot. It's a lot higher than I've ever seen," she said.

When one of her partners hit a ball into the tall grass on No. 14, the search was on.

"We found 15 golf balls," Kerr said. "None of them were our group's."

Bulled over

Lexi Thompson couldn't help but smile. She was 6-over, disappointed, tired . . . but little Amanda Rubin got up at 6 a.m. and missed one of her last days in fifth grade just to see her.

"She's my role model," Amanda said. She discovered Thompson just before the Lexi hype began here last year. She was watching golf on television and learned Thompson played in the U.S. Women's Open at age 12.

Thompson roared onto the LPGA when she made a loud pro debut here last year, arriving to a news conference in the Red Bull-sponsored stock car, decked out in bright Puma gear head to toe, her 15-year-old face beaming with expectation.

She missed the cut by four strokes.

This year, she is fitter, wiser and after one round, at 6-over.

"It was a struggle, the whole day," she said.

She cannot play full time on the LPGA Tour until she is 18, so she is again playing on one of six sponsor exemptions she gets per season. That doesn't keep girls like Amanda from loving her.

Amanda and her father, 48-year-old Rick Varga, left their Cranbury, N.J. home at 6 a.m. to witness Thompson's 77.

"That was pretty cool," Thompson said.


Lindsay Wright dropped four birdies in the first eight holes en route to a 69 . . . Michelle Wie fought the gusts all day and needed a rally to finish at 1-over. She was 2-under after seven but logged five consecutive bogeys before birdies at 13 and 18 . . . Karrie Webb briefly lost a ball in the high grass off the ninth fairway, took an unplayable lie out of that fescue and bogeyed the par-5, her third bogey in four holes. She had led the field at 3-under before that run and finished at 1-under. *