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Three LPGA leaders steer clear of the rough stuff

Locust Hill Country Club showed its teeth Thursday during the first round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

Thick, gnarly Kentucky bluegrass rough lined the fairways and circled the greens, swallowing up any shot that was even slightly off target.

"It's tough, and that's what a major should be," Paula Creamer said. "This golf course has always been a narrow driving [course], it's just the rough is so much thicker than it has been in the past and the scores show it."

Spaniard Beatriz Recari, Italian Giulia Sergas and Californian Ryann O'Toole were the only players to break 70 on a sunny, 75-degree day in suburban Rochester. They all share the lead after the opening round, shooting 3-under-par 69 on the 6,534-yard layout. Just 16 players broke par, but with little separation by the leaders, the tournament remains wide open.

"Round one is just to get yourself in position," said Creamer, who did just that by carding a 70, one shot off the lead.

She's in a group of seven players just one stroke back, joined by past winners Cristie Kerr and Se Ri Pak. Creamer had a chance to join the leaders on the par-3 ninth hole, her last of the day, but slid her birdie putt by the hole.

She wasn't lamenting that after the round, though, focusing more on the positive.

"I hit a lot of good shots. I gave myself opportunities," she said. "I think I hit about 10 greens [Thursday]. I'll try and hit a couple more [today]. I hit my irons really well. If I give myself a chance to put it in the right position on the green, I need to take advantage of it."

Kerr, who this week lost her status as the top-ranked American in the world to Stacy Lewis, got to 3-under during her round, but had a disappointing bogey on the par-5 17th.

She then had to scramble for par on the 18th after airmailing her approach shot over the green. She hit a marvelous chip shot to within a foot to save par.

"Trying to play the maximum amount of break and just trying to leave it short of the hole," she said of the chip. "Because if you don't try to leave it short of the hole, it's going to go way down the ridge and it just ended up being perfect."

Kerr won the tournament by an LPGA Championship-record 12 strokes in 2010, but doesn't see a similar runaway this year.

"I don't think there is going to be any 18- or 19-unders," she said. "The rough is measurably worse than the year that I won. It's just a lot thicker."

The best thing to do, then, is avoid it. O'Toole was able to do that for most of her round, saying she found herself in severe rough just one time.

"I just felt in the practice round that the rough has just been brutal," she said. "I felt like I really needed to focus in on targets, pick the smallest points that I can find and narrow down, and even if I have to swing 80 percent just to get the ball in the fairway, that was my goal."

O'Toole's round was jump-started by a 90-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th hole.

"I think that's the best one yet," she said. "That was the biggest ridge [I've] made a putt up."

O'Toole made four birdies and just one bogey in her round. The 25-year-old doesn't have a lot of majors experience, but did have a solid ninth-place showing at last year's U.S. Women's Open.

"I like hard golf courses," she said. "It really calls for using different shots out of your bag. It makes you work."

Recari held the lead on her own for most of the day, thanks to a round that also featured four birdies and just one bogey.

"I was feeling very strong, very confident," she said. "It definitely feels great. It feels almost relieving because I have been playing really well for a long time. The scores didn't happen the way I wanted."

Sergas, who like O'Toole had the last tee time of the day (on different holes), joined the group at the top by making birdies on three of her final four holes. She completed an unheralded threesome. Among the leaders, Recari is highest in the world rankings, at 83rd. O'Toole is 128th and Sergas 132nd.

At the top of that list is Yani Tseng. The world's best female player and defending tournament champion struggled Thursday, though, tying her high round of the season after a 4-over 76.

"I hit the ball right and left and I didn't hit it on the fairway," she said. "If you can't hit it in the fairway on this course, it's kind of tough to hit a low score. But I was very surprised that scores didn't go very low [Thursday]. So obviously I have a little chance to get it back."

email: jskurski@buffnews.com