Rookie takes early lead at LPGA event

Lorie Kane was top Canadian in the clubhouse after an opening round of even-par 71 at the at the...

Lorie Kane was top Canadian in the clubhouse after an opening round of even-par 71 at the at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ont., on Thursday. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:17 PM ET

WATERLOO, ONT. - With eight of the world's top 10 players in attendance at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, the early leader came out of nowhere Thursday at Grey Silo Golf Course.

Out in the first group of the day off the 10th tee, unheralded rookie Sandra Changkija from Orlando took advantage of the course before the wind blew up, firing a sizzling 8-under-par 63 to lead by three over LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng and by four strokes over a group that included veterans Suzann Pettersen and Angela Stanford. Swede Anna Nordqvist was on course at 5-under through 13 when a lightning storm halted play late in the afternoon.

Changkija, a four-time Division 2 national player of the year and all-American out of Nova Southwestern University, went out in 2-under 33 but was on fire after the turn with a six-birdie 30.

"For the first six holes, it was just straight pars. I just tried to find the speed with the greens and I birdied 16 and 18. I was comfortable with the 2-under and then the next couple of birdies I hit it pretty close and just had to make a good stroke, putt one in," the 23-year-old said. "The next three birdies, they were kind of long ones. I had the right line and I just wanted to get it close and it just went in."

Changkija made the cut in just two of her seven LPGA starts but she said she didn't feel her game was too far off.

"I was hoping it would come along," she said. "My ball-striking has been good for almost every tournament I've played in. I've just missed a few fairways here and there but I've been keeping up with my ball-striking and I just needed to make some good strokes."

It's the first time seeing her name atop the leaderboard on the LPGA Tour, but on a course where many predicted the scores were going to be very low, Changkija didn't seem as baffled by the wind as many other players.

"I like (the course) a lot, it fits me well," she said. "It definitely got windy once we got to the back nine."

With 16 collegiate wins to her credit, the rookie wasn't daunted by being atop the leaderboard in a star-studded field.

"It's definitely a good number, especially for a new venue," she said. "I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing: Hit fairways, hit greens, make good strokes. I'm putting really well."

Chasing Changkija is Feng, who showed no hangover following her historic major victory two weeks ago. She fired a solid 66 (six birdies, one bogey) in her attempt to become just the sixth woman to win the next tournament after winning the LPGA Championship.

Feng became the first person from mainland China to win a major and her composure showed again Thursday.

"I thought a lot before I started, because I know that after you win a tournament, maybe sometimes you'll be expecting yourself to do too well and you actually give yourself more pressure," said the player, who also goes by the American name Jenny. "I was trying to tell myself, 'Just keep patient and just focus on shot-by-shot and do the best you can.'"

Michelle Wie, who won the first full-field event of her career at the 2010 Canadian Women's Open in Winnipeg and finished tied for second in 2011 in Montreal, opened with a 1-under 70. It marked the first time she has broken par since Feb. 17 in Thailand.

tim.mckay@sunmedia.ca

 


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