NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The feeling is becoming very familiar to Ai Miyazato. So is the vantage point. And the power and pressure that come with the prestige.
Miyazato has won four LPGA tournaments this year. And after shooting a sharp 6-under-par 66 during the first round Friday at Pumpkin Ridge’s Ghost Creek Course, the sport’s second-ranked golfer leads the Safeway Classic by one stroke.
LPGA SAFEWAY CLASSIC
When: Today-Sunday (rounds 2-3)
Where: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in North Plains, Ore.
TV: Golf Channel, cable Channel 33
Teresa Lu and Jee Young Lee finished at 5-under, tied for second place in the three-round tournament that runs through Sunday. Four golfers are at 4-under.
Miyazato, a native of Japan, said the last 14 days of her life provided the perfect setup to her impressive round.
First, there was a week of peace and quiet away from the confines of the tour. Then, Miyazato returned to her home country, where she received a few positive reminders about what it takes to succeed in her chosen profession.
A confidence boost followed. And by the time Miyazato started walking the windy but fast greens Friday morning at Pumpkin Ridge, she felt the same assured pulse that carried her to back-to-back victories to open the 2010 season.
“I just like this golf course, I think,” Miyazato said. “It’s only a three-day tournament. Because of that, I think I try to be a bit more aggressive.”
Miyazato’s instincts were true. She birdied six holes on the par-72 course, including four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 7-11. Miyazato was also consistent: She finished 3-under on the front and back nine, and did not shoot above par on a single hole.
It was intensity mixed with calmness for the fifth-year golfer who did not record a victory until her third year on the tour. And now with two rounds remaining in the Classic, Miyazato is eyeing her fifth win of the season.
“I feel like I’m more relaxed right now,” Miyazato said. “It’s not just for this season. The race for No. 1 is going to give me good experience. So, I just try to get good experience out of it instead of focus on the results.”
Lu shot a 5-under 67 to take the early No. 1 spot.
She started slow, bogeying the par-3 third hole, but picked up birdies on five of her next seven holes and shot 2-under on the back nine.
Lu praised the course’s quick greens, stating that par 5s at holes 8-10 played so quick that she was driving the ball as far as possible off the tee in the hope she would be able to capture an eagle.
Lu fell short of her wide-eyed goal. But the same golfer who is still in search of her first victory after four-plus years on the tour is one shot off the pace with two rounds to go.
“Playing one day doesn’t mean I can win the tournament. So, I need to play aggressively the next couple of days to keep shooting low number,” Lu said. “And I think people are going to shoot low on the green, so you have to keep going.”
Lee equaled Lu’s first-round total and mirrored her performance.
The South Korea native birdied six holes. She played an even, consistent round, with the lone bad mark being a bogey on 18 that kept her one shot behind Miyazato.
Lee said a new psychological edge that has her prizing confidence and an even temper over aggression and aggravation keyed her run. And even simple changes, such as picking up an old putter, contributed to her strong first-round standing.
Defending champion M.J. Hur shot a 2-over-par 74, while 2008 winner Cristie Kerr stood tied for 14th at 2-under.
Michelle Wie ended the first round tied for 30th at even par.
Jamie Hullett (76) sank a hole-in-one using an 8-iron on the par-3, 131-yard 16th hole.