BELLEAIR — Leona Maguire set course and tournament records Thursday at Pelican Golf Club to storm to the first-round lead in the LPGA Pelican Women’s Championship.
Maguire, 26, of Ireland shot 8-under-par 62, finishing two shots ahead of defending tournament champion Sei Young Kim. She bested the course and tournament records by two strokes.
Maguire made eight birdies, including three in a span of four holes between Nos. 12 and 14. She did not have a bogey, shooting par on the other eight holes.
Maguire hit all 14 fairways and 14 greens (she birdied all four par-3 holes) and took just 24 putts. She said the greens were more receptive than at last year’s inaugural tournament, allowing her to reach a few more pins.
“I hit a lot of greens and holed some nice putts,” Maguire said. “Probably the best I’ve drove it in quite a while. Had a lot of control over my golf ball (Thursday), which I feel like is key on this golf course just the way the greens are.”
Maguire, in her second season, is ranked 46th in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. She has six career top-10 finishes but seeks her first Tour victory. Her first-round score is the second-lowest of her career. She shot 9-under 61 in the the final round of the the Evian Championship in July in France.
Having been in tough groups before, she said she felt comfortable playing with world No. 4 Kim and No. 13 Lexi Thompson. Including Thompson’s 5-under 65, which put her in a seven-way tie for third, all three finished near the top of the leaderboard.
“Obviously, Sei Young and Lexi are two of the best players in world,” Maguire said. “Sei Young got off to a hot start. She knows how to play this golf course well. So, just a case of trying to hang on and ride her momentum a little bit, and Lexi as well.”
Kim seemed to pick up where she left off last year, racing out to birdies on the first three holes. After another birdie on No. 7, she made eagle on the par-5 14th hole.
“I was just trying to sort of keep up with her,” Maguire said. “I mean, she’s a great player. She hits it really solid, hits a lot of greens, putts really nice.”
Kim said the first three holes gave her some momentum, a strong wind gave her trouble on the back nine.
“I was a little disappointed with that,” she said.
Kim agreed the competitiveness within the group helped all three golfers raise their games.
“(We’re) feeding off each other,” Kim said. “Because when (Maguire) makes the birdie, I’m going to birdie on the next hole. It’s a good thing.”
Thompson’s round included a pair of birdies on the front nine and a run on three in six holes on the back. She tied world No. 1 Nelly Korda, Nasa Hataoka, Danielle Kang, Jennifer Kupcho, Christina Kim and Lauren Coughlin for third.
Kupcho made bogey on two of the first eight holes but recovered with five birdies in a six-hole stretch between Nos. 10-15.
“I didn’t start out very good, but I figured out a little bit with alignment halfway through the round and started hitting the ball really well and making putts,” Kupcho said. “So it was nice to see the ball go in.”
LPGA Pelican Women’s Championship
Where: Pelican Golf Club, Belleair
Purse: $1.75 million
History: Sei Young Kim won the inaugural tournament last year.
Players to watch: World No. 1 Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko (2), Sei Young Kim (4), Lydia Ko(5), Yuka Saso (6), Nasa Hataoka (8), Brooke Henderson (10), Danielle Kang (11), Patty Tavatanakit (12), Lexi Thompson (13).
Coverage: Live, 10 a.m. Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel. Live stream, 1-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, nbcsports.com. Taped, 7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Golf Channel.