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Early tee-time an advantage for ShopRite leaders

The SportsXchange

GALLWAY, N.J. -- The early bird got to the top of the leaderboard at the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer.

As the sun set Friday evening at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, Amanda Blumenherst and Moriya Jutanugarn shared the first-round lead at 5-under par 66.

Both had been finished with their day's work for some time.

The winds kicked up in the afternoon, giving the early starters a distinct advantage. Jutanugarn teed off at 8:21, Blumenherst 22 minutes later.

Defending champion Stacy Lewis sits alone in third place after a 4-under par 67. Michelle Wie turned in a 68. Seven players are at 69, including Shanshan Feng, Beatriz Recari Hee Young Park, Ji Young Oh, Pornanong Phatlum, Jennifer Song, and Sara-Maude Juneau.

In all there were 19 sub-par rounds recorded on Friday. Thirteen came from players in the morning wave.

The two co-leaders are each seeking their first career LPGA win

Jutanugarn, who won't turn 19 until July, is an LPGA rookie. She tied for fourth in the season opener in Australia after sharing medalist honors at the final stage of Q-School last fall. She has struggled in recent weeks however. In her last four starts she's tied for 26th, tied for 39th, and missed two cuts.

Her round on Friday started with two birdies; she made the turn in 1-under par 36, and then played the back side in four under par. She finished with six birdies and on her scorecard and only a single blemish, a bogey at the par-5 third.

"You know this course is going to be really windy in the afternoon," she said, "so we were lucky because we played in the morning.

"I hit it in the fairway a lot, so I kept in places that are easy to play from. But the greens were getting firmer and firmer. They're in good shape, but you have to see where you can miss it and where you cannot."

Blumenherst's effort was highlighted by an eagle at the third, a 35-foot putt from just beyond the back fringe. She made the turn in 2-under par 35, then added three additional birdies coming in. Her only bogey of the day came at the par-4 sixth.

The 26-year-old joined the LPGA Tour in 2010. Her best career finish was a tie for fifth in Thailand in 2012. She's struggled this year, making just two cuts in eight starts.

"It's been a while since I've had a very solid round of golf," she said. "It felt like I just played well through the entire day. It was a lot of fun out there because it's been a challenging start to the season."

Blumenherst said the key to her round was finding the fairway off the tee.

"Just being able to put it in position off the tee," she said. "I think I might have missed one fairway all day and just being able to then hit solid iron shots. The rough is very thick and there's some pretty thick heather out there. So just being able to take normal full iron shots into the greens makes it a lot easier."

Lewis, the reigning LPGA Player of the Year, is looking to make some history this week. Since the tournament's inception in 1986 no returning champion has made a successful title defense.

Lewis, who started her round on Seaview's back nine, had five birdies on her card against a single bogey. She finished her day with a birdie at the par-5 ninth hole, her 18th.

"I've been driving the ball really well," she said, "So that was one thing I was looking for coming into this week. You have to drive the ball well here.

"The greens are a little bumpier than they've been in years' past, so you're going to have some bumps go your way and some not go your way. So it's really a test of patience and missing in the right places, and taking advantage of the par-fives."

NOTES: This marks the 25th edition of the tournament. It was first played in 1986 but there was no tournament held from 2007-09. ... The shot of the day was made by Shanshan Feng, who found herself in the rough short and right of the green at the par-5 18th (her ninth hole of the day). She chipped from heavy rough to inside four feet and made the birdie putt. ...Three players, Candie Kung and Marina Stuetz, withdrew following their rounds. ... The golf course officially measured 6,155 yards.
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