Michelle Wie, finished the opening round of the Ricoh Women's British Open at 1-over and looks like a big threat. Adverse conditions don't stop Sandra Gal in Ricoh Women's British Open opener

On a day when the wind whistled in from the sea at over 20 mph, and birdies were harder to find than balls in the deep rough, Sandra Gal nipped in with a sparkling 3-under-par 69 to take a one-shot advantage into the second day of the Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's Golf Club.

Playing in the penultimate group, the tall German held her nerve over the closing holes, birdied 15 and 17, and then got up and down out of the deep rough at the last to save par. Her lead could even have been greater had she not three-putted 16 from the back of the green. But, rather than be disheartened, she responded brilliantly by knocking her approach stiff at the tough 17th.

Until Gal's glorious finish, it looked like Angela Stanford, of the U.S., and Song-Hee Kim, of Korea, would be sharing the lead at 2-under. The Korean had been two shots clear of the field, but four fives in a row from the 14th saw her slip back, and only a rare birdie at the last earned her a share of what was to become second place.

Angela Stanford attributed her scintillating round and ability to cope with the tricky wind to having been brought up in what she claims is the windiest city in the United States: Fort Worth, Texas. Having said that, she admitted that she wasn't particularly looking forward to playing in such testing conditions and came into the event without any great expectations.

"I think it's just that I'm not used to this type of golf. Where I grew up, you hit it in a certain spot, and it's probably going to be there," Stanford said. "Here, you could hit it right at your target, and it could be 15 yards off line because it gets a funny bounce."

The unpredictability of links golf has had a mellowing effect on her, she claimed. "It used to make me angry. I hated it when I felt like I hit a great shot, and then it's not where it should be. But you've just got to go with the flow."

Stanford's eagle 3 at the seventh was one of only 3s bagged the whole day, all of which came at that hole. Yuko Mitsuka grabbed one on her way to a brilliant outward half of 33, but the No. 4 on the Japanese money list then came home in 38, a score which still left her just two off the pace. Scotland's Catriona Matthew, who recently gave birth to her second daughter, had the only other eagle. She was going well until a lost ball at 17 and a bogey at the last left her a little deflated at 2-over.

Another European to suffer an anti-climatic end to her round was Sweden's Maria Hjorth. Having battled her way to 2-under and a share of the lead, she hooked her final drive way left of the fairway, couldn't reach the green with her second, found a bunker with her third and walked off with a double.

Natalie Gulbis began with three straight threes, but a double at eight halted her progress, and a disappointing back nine left her 7-over and a fair bit to do tomorrow if she wants to stay for the weekend.

For many of the men amongst her considerable gallery, the hightlight of the round came on the 17th tee when she finally removed her waterproofs to reveal a tight green top and a fetching pair of shorts. Her playing partner, Michelle Wie, turned 1-under but finished 1-over and looks like a big threat.

With the benefit of a mostly following wind, the front nine was playing comparatively easier, and no fewer than 20 players were under par at the turn. The inward nine was an altogether different proposition, and remarkably, Gal was the only one to beat par.

Cristie Kerr, presently in top spot on the LPGA Tour money list, was another for whom the round went rapidly downhill. One under on the 10th tee, she took a double there and a miserable inward half saw her fall back to 4-over. Although she didn't suffer quite as badly, world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa went from level par halfway through her round to 3-over at the finish.

Apart from Gal, only a handful of players - Brittany Liniscombe, Martina Eberl, amateur Christina Hedwall and Hee-Won Han among them - scored better on the back than on the front.

Led by Kim and reinforced by Mitsuka and Hee Young Park, both at 1-under, the considerable Korean challenge grew stronger as the day wore on, and few among the thousands of spectators who soaked up the bright sunshine would bet against one of the strong Korean contingent clinching the title.

It might not, however, be defending champion Jiya Shin. After opening up with two bogeys, she recovered well but then doubled both 17 and 18 to finish five over.

On a day when big numbers were littered about the course, the unwanted prize for the biggest goes to Soo Yung Kang, of Korea, who racked up an ugly 12 at the last, refused to sign her card and was promptly disqualified.

July 31, 2009

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.

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