Sweltering heat and international flair dominated the opening round of the AJGA's Rolex Girls Junior Championship on Tuesday.
On a steamy day when the heat index hit 115 degrees, a trio of players with international roots matched the women's course record at Long Cove Club with rounds of 3-under-par 68 to take the early lead in the 54-hole event featuring 76 of the world's best female junior golfers.
Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, Argentina's Manuela Carbajo Re and Yueer "Cindy" Feng, a native of China who lives in Orlando, Fla., hold a one-shot lead over Mariah Stackhouse of Riverdale, Ga. Top-ranked Argentinean Victoria Tanco is among a group of three players who are two shots back.
Five of the top 10 players in the Polo Golf Rankings are in the field, and the top-ranked players fared well Tuesday -- Feng (No. 4) is among the co-leaders, while Tanco (No. 1) and Alison Lee (No. 5) are tied for fifth -- which is to be expected on such a large stage.
"I've played in quite a few of these, and I started playing when I was young," Feng said, "so I won't get nervous out there."
Indeed, Feng has played in the biggest women's golf tournament this country has to offer -- the U.S. Women's Open -- and fellow co-leader Jutanugarn has twice made the cut in the Honda LPGA Thailand.
The outlier among the leaders is Carbajo Re, who doesn't appear among the top 400 players in the Polo rankings and doesn't have much of a track record in AJGA events.
"This is my first invitational, and it's really important to me," she said, admitting she was a bit nervous standing on the first tee.
The jitters had melted away by the time she made a birdie at the par-3 second hole, and she rode a hot putter to five more birdies. She would have led alone if not for a bogey at the par-4 18th, where she missed the green to the right and couldn't get up and down.
Feng's round was equally erratic. Riding the momentum of successfully defending her title at the Thunderbird International Junior two weeks ago, she made four birdies in her first six holes. She finished the round with one of only six birdies at the 371-yard 18th, giving her seven birdies and seven pars to go with four bogeys.
"It was a bit up and down today," Feng said. "I was hitting it close to the pin on the front nine, so I had a lot of birdie chances, but I made a few silly mistakes and made bogeys."
Jutanugarn found her hot streak on the back nine, making birdies on five of the first six holes after making the turn to charge to the top of the leaderboard. She made a bogey at the par-3 17th -- which played as the hardest hole on the course Tuesday with a stroke average of 3.66 -- but made an 8-foot putt to save par at No. 18.
"Really lucky," Jutanugarm said of her 4-under-par back nine, saying nothing was going right on the front nine but everything turned around on the back.
In all, 11 players carded rounds of par or better, and 20 players will begin today within five shots of the lead. Among them is Hilton Head Island resident Ri Hyang Park, an International Junior Golf Academy student who is tied for 16th at 2 over. Bluffton High School's Samantha Buchanan struggled on the back nine to finish at 7 over and is tied for 47th.
Anne Marie Covar of Edgefield, S.C., hit the day's only hole-in-one, acing the 162-yard second hole.
The trio of leaders will tee off No. 1 at 9:18 a.m. for today's second round, as tournament officials elected to send players off both the first and 10th tees in an effort to keep players from being on the course during the hottest part of the day.
Scores after the first round of the Rolex Girls Junior Championship conducted by the American Junior Golf Association at Long Cove Club; Par: 71; Yardage: 6229; Rating: 76.8; Slope: 139
Yueer Cindy Feng
Manuela Carbajo Re
Ri Hyang Park
Mayko Chwen Wang
Jaye Marie Green
Anne Marie Covar
Sun Gyoung Park
Tee times for today's second round of the Rolex Girls Junior Championship conducted by the American Junior Golf Association at Long Cove Club. All times a.m.
No. 1 tee
7:30 -- Maria Maymon; Casie Cathrea
7:39 -- Tiffany Lim; Kyle Roig; Mayko Chwen Wang
7:48 -- Daffodil Sanchez; Robbi Howard; Risa Murata
7:57 -- Doris Chen; Monifa Sealy; Ana Raga
8:06 -- Samantha Wagner; Marika Liu; A.J. Newell
8:15 -- Kelly Shon; Karen Chung; Collins Bradshaw
8:24 -- Ri Hyang Park; Mariana Sims; Kelli Oride
8:33 -- Anne Cheng; Stephanie Meadow; Aurora Kan
8:42 -- Ginger Howard; Emily Tubert; Viviana Macias
8:51 -- Erynne Lee; Gabriella Then; Nicole Zhang
9:00 -- Alison Lee; Moriya Jutanugarn; Kyung Kim
9:09 -- Mariah Stackhouse; Marijosse Navarro; Victoria Tanco
9:18 -- Ariya Jutanugarn; Yueer Cindy Feng; Manuela Carbajo Re
No. 10 tee
7:30 -- Szu-Han Chen; Jaye Marie Green
7:39 -- Hana Lee; Kaira Martin; Lauren Kim
7:48 -- Juliet Vongphoumy; April McCoy; Janie Jackson
7:57 -- Jordan Lippetz; Elizabeth Breed; Esther Lee
8:06 -- Allison Emrey; Heather Proctor; Samantha Buchanan
8:15 -- Monica Umpant; Amira Alexander; Emily Collins
8:24 -- Mikayla Harmon; Elizabeth Doty; Briana Mao
8:33 -- Anne Marie Covar; Gabriela Lopez; Michelle Butler
8:42 -- Sierra Sims; Portland Rosen; Sun Gyoung Park
8:51 -- Talia Campbell; Saki Okamura; Bethany Wu
9:00 -- Kendall Martindale; ValeriaMacias; Taylor Manning
9:09 -- Rene Sobolewski; Silvia Garces; Irene Jung
9:18 -- Yugene Lee; Lauren Diaz-Yi; Kaitlyn Rohrback