Wearing a black rain suit and a soft smile, Inbee Park looked calm as ever standing before the imposing Royal & Ancient clubhouse in Scotland just moments before she teed off Thursday in the Women’s British Open.
Only after her unsteady round of 3-under-par 69 did Park reveal perhaps the biggest surprise at St. Andrews.
She was nervous.
“But then once the round started, and especially playing so good in the first few holes, that really gave me a lot of confidence,” Park said. “I didn’t feel much pressure when I was playing during the round. I’m just glad that it’s already started, and I got the first round under my belt.”
Park wound up three shots behind Boca Raton’s Morgan Pressel and Camilla Lennarth of Sweden, a solid start to what should be a fascinating week at the home of golf.
Park’s pursuit of history looked more like a high-speed chase when the 25-year-old South Korean made six birdies in 10 holes. Three poor tee shots, two three-putt bogeys and one double bogey from a pot bunker on the back nine made her realize there’s a reason no golfer has ever won four majors in a single year.
“Felt like a roller coaster [Thursday],” Park said.
She was only too happy it finally stopped with a six-foot birdie on the 18th hole, ending a slide during which she dropped four shots in a five-hole span.
Pressel, one spot out of making the Solheim Cup team this week, caught a break when the rain and wind never materialized in the afternoon. She made seven birdies in a round of 66 that gave her a share of the lead with Lennarth, who birdied the 18th.
Stacy Lewis, the former No. 1 player in women’s golf, shot 31 on the tougher back nine for a 67 to be part of a large group that included former U.S. Women’s Open champion Na Yeon Choi and Nicole Castrale. Another shot behind were Paula Creamer, Catriona Matthew and Lizette Salas.
Those who played early had reason to worry.
Lewis was on the 10th tee when she looked over at Park knocking in an 18-foot birdie putt, her fifth of the round. Castrale had not yet teed off when her husband saw a leaderboard with Park’s name in a familiar position.
“It’s amazing, the fact we all possibly can play with history,” Castrale said. “It’s amazing what she’s done to this point, the composure she has. I don’t know what she shot [Thursday], but I’m going to guess she’ll be in the mix come Sunday.”
So much for course knowledge.
Webb Simpson, playing his first competitive round at Firestone Country Club, shot a 6-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead in the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
It all came down to trust.
“Well, I knew it all through my caddie [ Paul Tesori], who’s been here so many years,” Simpson said. “I just kind of had to listen to him.”
Tesori has caddied for years on tour, for Vijay Singh and Jerry Kelly, in addition to being a pro himself.
“It’s hard for us players to listen to our caddies, but he basically showed me where to go [Wednesday], and told me where to hit it, where the lines were, what clubs to hit,” said Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion. “I didn’t feel like it was my first time because he has so much experience here.”
Six-time Bridgestone winner Tiger Woods did not have to rely so much on the man on his bag, Joe LaCava, while shooting a 66. Woods has 11 top-10 finishes in his 13 starts at the course, so he clearly knows where to go. Still, he needed his counsel from time to time.
Henrik Stenson was alone in second with a 65. Defending champion Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore and Chris Wood, another first-time entrant, matched Woods at 66.
Another shot back at 67 in the star-studded field were Jim Furyk, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas and Luke Donald.
Josh Teater took the first-round lead in the Reno-Tahoe Open in Nevada, scoring five points with an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole and finishing with 15 in the modified Stableford event.
Winless on the PGA Tour, Teater also had six birdies and two bogeys at Montreux Golf & Country Club. Players receive eight points for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-one for bogey and minus-three for double bogey or worse.
Gary Woodland and James Driscoll were a point back, Greg Chalmers followed at 13, and Stuart Appleby and Colt Knost had 12.