Mhairi McKay turned in a surprising performance Thursday with five straight birdies on the back nine, finishing with a tap-in birdie for 5-under-par 66 and the lead in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open.
The bigger surprise were those behind her.
Hey, these kids can play.
In a U.S. Women's Open dominated by talk about teenagers, 17-year-old Aree Song played with experience beyond her years with 1-under 70, tied for the best score among the early starters with 43-year-old Rosie Jones.
In an Open dominated by talk about teenagers, 15-year-old Morgan Pressel played bogey-free golf on a wicked Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge until double bogey on the final hole dropped her to 1-under 70.
Michelle Wie, at 13 perhaps the most heralded of the teenagers, finished with 73. The tall Hawaiian played in the final group of the first LPGA major, the Nabisco Championship, and the others looked like they want a piece of that action.
"Great, great talent," McKay said of the 14 teenagers at Pumpkin Ridge, which the USGA believes is a record. "They're probably looking at Michelle and gaining confidence."
McKay, a 28-year-old Scot, picked up confidence from hours on the practice range while working on her swing. Once it started to come together, there was no stopping her.
A sand wedge into 12 feet at No. 11. A wedge into 3 feet at the par-3 12th. Another wedge into 18 feet, and a sand wedge to 4 feet. She finished her birdie blitz with a 5-iron into 15 feet to get to 6 under, a score that stunned a gallery that already had seen its share of problems on a wicked Witch Hollow course.
"I always wanted to give myself a chance at par," McKay said. "Fortunately, I hit some greens and rolled in some birdie putts."
McKay stumbled down the stretch, hitting a poor drive on the 16th that led to bogey, and missing the green on the 17th for another bogey.
But she ended in style on the 502-yard 18th, with a tap-in birdie.
Defending champion Juli Inkster, a 43-year-old with a daughter the same age as Wie and Sydney Burlison (81), birdied the final hole for 69. She was tied with Donna Andrews.
No one can ever be too far ahead of Annika Sorenstam, who scrambled out of a tough start with three straight birdies. The best player in women's golf closed on a disappointing note, three-putting from 30 feet for bogey and 1-over 72.
That left her six shots back, and behind three teenagers.
"I'm tired," Sorenstam said. "I was thinking on every shot."
Song was known as Aree Wongluekiet when she played in the final group of an LPGA major at the 2000 Nabisco Championship as a 13-year-old, winding up in a tie for 10th.
"I think my time will come," Song said.
Only now, she has company.
Among the early starters, 18-year-old Irene Cho was at par 71 and a couple of others were holding their own as conditions got even tougher in the afternoon.
The Witch Hollow course averaged about five shots over par, and anything in the low 70s figured to give everyone a chance.
Even the kids. At par at the turn, Song hit 6-iron to 20 feet for birdie, followed that with a wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the par-3 11th and made a 20-footer on 16 to get to 2 under.
Song lost a shot on the final hole by missing the fairway, pitching out, then hitting 5-iron left of the green into a collection area and failing to get up-and-down.
A tough finish, but not a bad day of work. With so much focus on teenagers this week, Song was glad to carry the flag.
"I guess we're on the same team," she said.