DUBAI — Apparently drawing inspiration from Tiger Woods’ long-awaited return to competitive golf last week, his niece Cheyenne turned in an impressive performance, opening with a solid 68 in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.
The 26-year-old prodigy, starting from the 10th tee, raced to seven under with six holes to play, but a bogey and a double bogey coming home left her sharing second with France’s Sophie Giquel-Bettan, just one shot off the early pace set by England’s Florentyna Parker.
Ladies European Tour rookie Nuria Iturrios from Spain moved into a six-way tie for fourth a further shot adrift, one behind a seven-player group led by India’s Aditi Ashok, who has already assured herself of the coveted Rookie of the Year award.
“I played really well, but struggled a little bit coming in. Overall, I’m happy with how I played and where my game is at the moment,” said Woods, who double-bogeyed the eighth after pushing her driver right into the sand.
“That was ugly. Despite that I thought I hit the ball well and gave myself a lot of chances for birdies and my putter felt great too. I feel like I’m in a great position and I think I can do even better tomorrow,” said the popular American who is making her second appearance in the season-ending Ladies European Tour event.
England’s Parker carded a 67 after making a stunning start on Wednesday when she reeled off making seven birdies in her first nine holes before play was suspended following the tragic death of caddie Maximilian Zechmann for which a minute’s silence was observed at noon on Thursday.
“It was horrible what happened. Our thoughts are with the family, but it was the right decision to stop play and let us come back this morning. Yeah, we have to still do our job and concentrate on golf this week but we’ll be thinking of him, as well,” said Parker, who played her last nine holes at two over.
“It’s quite hard to find your way again, but it was good that I made back-to-back birdies, and obviously I struggled on the last two holes,” said Parker, who three-putted the ninth, her last hole, after a poor chip shot.
Giquel-Bettan returned a flawless 68, featuring birdies at the second, 10th, 13th and 17th while fellow Frenchwoman Jade Schaeffer, the Xiamen International Ladies Open winner Anne Van Dam from the Netherlands, Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark, Nuria Iturrios from Spain, Ashleigh Simon of South Africa and Laura Jansone from Latvia all returned 69s.
Defending champion and world number four Shanshan Feng from China opened her campaign with a level par 72 to join Thailand’s Phatlum Pornanong, who won the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters title in 2013, in a tie for 31st.
“I struck the ball very well and created so many birdie chances, but my putting wasn’t really working. I think even par is not a great score, but I still feel like at least I tried my best,” said Feng, a record three-time winner in Dubai.
World No.18 Charley Hull, who sealed the 2013 Rookie of the Year and 2014 Order of Merit titles in Dubai, also carded a 72, while world number 16 Suzann Pettersen had a 74 to sit just inside the projected cut mark, three strokes better than social media star Paige Spiranac on 77.
Meanwhile, Australian Whitney Hillier produced the shot of the first round, acing the 171-yard fourth with a 6-iron on Wednesday morning. It was the fifth hole in one in the history of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, dating back to the first hole-in-one, recorded in 2009.
The Omega Dubai Ladies Masters is backed by OMEGA as the title sponsor and Emirates Global Aluminium PJSC as sponsor. The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World & Maritime World, Emirates NBD, Gulf News, JA Resorts & Hotels, Mercedes-Benz and wasl, while Dubai Duty Free, Neocasa Interiors and Motivate Publishing are the Patrons in golf in DUBAi’s drive to showcase the emirate’s vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.