Pressel falters late, trails Lee by 1 at Founders Cup
PHOENIX — Morgan Pressel had a befitting start at Wildfire Golf Club.
She was 6 under after six holes, then 9 under through 11.
Golf’s magic number of 59 — accomplished only on the LPGA Tour by Annika Sorenstam in 2001 at nearby Moon Valley — was in range and word spread quickly Thursday at the JTBC Founders Cup.
"Wow. Go Morgan," friend Natalie Gulbis tweeted.
"I don’t know if I was necessarily thinking 59, but I probably just got a little bit excited, because I had never been that many under par in that short of a span," Pressel said. "I just got a little bit quick and came back to earth."
She did, bogeying the next two holes and closing with five pars for a 7-under 65 that left her a stroke behind first-round leader Mirim Lee.
After birdieing Nos. 1 and 2 — her 10th and 11th holes — to reach 9 under, Pressel pulled her drive left on the par-4 third. Her ball lodged at the base of a short bush, with the bulk of the branches between the right-hander and the ball. There were burrowing animal holes near the ball, but they didn’t interfere with a possible swing or stance.
"I could have hit it left-handed and there were a couple of burrowing animal holes around," Pressel said. "I brought them (rules officials) over to ask, but I didn’t honestly think that I was going to get relief and I don’t think that I deserved it."
Pressel took an unplayable lie and missed the green to the right, chipped to 7 feet and made the putt to save bogey. She also dropped a stroke on the par-3 fourth, missing a 15-footer after hitting another iron to the right.
"It wasn’t the finish that I would have hoped for, but it gives me a little bit of confidence knowing how many birdies I can make and I’m capable of," she said.
Pressel birdied the first four holes and made a 50-footer for eagle on the par-5 15th. She also birdied the par-3 17th and made the turn in 7-under 29.
"I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten off to that hot of a start," Pressel said.
A tour regular since she was 17, the 25-year-old Pressel won the 2007 Kraft Nabisco to become the youngest women’s major champion. She also won the 2008 Kapalua LPGA.
"I definitely feel like I have the ability to win again," Pressel said.
Lee also started on No. 10 and nearly matched Pressel’s start, playing her opening nine in 6-under 30. She had three birdies and a bogey on the front side for a 64.
"Everything was good," said Lee, making her third LPGA Tour start.
Defending champion Stacy Lewis, top-ranked Inbee Park and Michelle Wie were two strokes back at 66 along with 2011 winner Karrie Webb, Eun-Hee Ji, Catriona Matthew, Gerina Piller and Pernilla Lindberg.
"A lot of tee shots set up well for me," Lewis said. "They fit my eye."
Coming off a victory two weeks ago in China in a Ladies European Tour event, Park birdied the final three holes. She closed with a tap-in birdie on the par-4 ninth after nearly holing a full pitching wedge.
"It was a very solid round," Park said. "Very good irons."
Wie eagled the par-5 fifth.
"I hit 3-wood, 5-iron over the green and then chipped in," Wie said.
Sixteen-year-old Lydia Ko had a 67. Playing alongside Park, Ko closed with a bogey after driving left into the desert.
"I forgot to bring my food and my protein bars," Ko said. "That’s my excuse."
DIVOTS: Paula Creamer, a playoff winner three weeks ago in Singapore in the last LPGA Tour event, shot 70. She had a double bogey on the par-4 eighth, her 17th hole. … Cheyenne Woods, Tiger Woods’ niece, had a 71. The Phoenix player won the LET’s Australian Ladies Masters last month. … The Semper Fi Fund said The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation will match Cristie Kerr’s tour earnings this year to help injured and critically ill service members and their families. She shot 73. … The scoring average was 70.863. The Arnold Palmer-designed front nine played to an average of 35.917 and the Nick Faldo-designed back nine to an average of 34.946.