“I really like the golf course, apparently,” Liu said. “So it’s just nice to be out here. Just great vibes.”
It was nice for just about everyone on a rain-softened course in which nearly half of the 140-player field shot in the 60s. Liu, a 23-year-old from China, had a one-shot lead over Jeongeun Lee and Yealimi Noh, who only got into the tournament through Monday qualifying.
Sung Hyun Park, who won last week in Arkansas to return to No. 1 in the world, opened with a 65.
Liu started on No. 10 and shot a 30 on the back nine, including an eagle on the par-5 13th hole. She thought her score could have been lower, especially after failing to birdie two of the par 5s, including her last hole at No. 9.
Even so, she did what was required on a course that felt like target practice.
“It was playing pretty soft, so it takes a lot of the pressure off for the approach shots because you know where you land is pretty much where you’re going to finish,” Liu said. “So not much calculation was needed. I was just hitting it pretty solid.”
It wasn’t easy for everyone, particularly Presley Cornelius.
Cornelius is an amateur from Wisconsin and an Oneida Tribal member who was given a sponsor exemption. She made only three pars, had no birdies and finished with a 96. The LPGA Tour no longer has the “88 Rule” that banned players from competition for a year if they are not LPGA Tour members and fail to break 88.
According to www.wisconsin.golf, the Oneida Nation first gave Cornelius a spot in the Monday qualifier, and then gave her an exemption when a spot came open.
Sei Young Kim won the tournament last year at 31-under 257 for a nine-shot victory, so low scoring at Thornberry Creek is nothing new.
Tiffany Joh and Nasa Hataoka were among those at 64, while the group two shots behind at 65 included Park, Shanshan Feng and Anna Nordqvist, who last year shot 67 all four rounds for 20 under and still finished 11 shots behind.
“This is just a course that for some reason you know you have to make birdies,” Nordqvist said. “Played well here last year, so I have good memories, but when you don’t birdie a couple in a row, you know you’re kind of getting a little behind. So I just try to keep making birdies and keep staying aggressive.”
Lee began her round with a par on No. 10 and then ran off seven birdies over her next eight holes for a 29 on the back. After an eagle on the par-5 third, she already was 9 under through 14 holes. Lee had to settle for six pars coming in and a 63, her lowest score in her second year on the LPGA Tour.
“There were many birdie opportunities, but I left a couple of them out there,” Lee said. “So that was a little disappointing.”