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Jane Park leads after first round of Kia Classic

The SportsXchange

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The good vibes on the golf course had been missing for a while for Jane Park. But after a strong opening round at the Kia Classic at Aviara Golf Club on Thursday, Park couldn't help but relish in her fortune.

"I love this style of golf course, so maybe that's why I played pretty well today," Park said.

Park shot a six-under par 66 to lead the field heading into Friday's second round at the $1.7 million event. Park recorded birdies on four of the initial six holes and finished with six overall. She shot par the rest of the round and finished with no bogeys.

"Well the weather was fantastic today like it always is in San Diego and I just wanted to take advantage of that and the fresh greens this morning," said Park, who is seeking her first LPGA tour win. "And fortunately I made a ton of putts today."

She also said it felt great to be completely healthy for the first time in three years. Back and neck pains and tendonitis in her wrist had plagued her. And she also battled maturity issues.

"Some injuries and some personal family issues, and I don't know, just growing up, I guess," said Park, currently ranked 298th. "I got on Tour pretty young. I was only 19, fresh out of my first year at UCLA, and thinking back it might have been a little premature. But yeah, it was just growing pains."

She added, "I think my preparation in the off-season was much better this off-season than it has been in the past. My career's been riddled with injuries and different things here and there, but I prepared really well and I was confident coming into the week."

Park turned pro in 2006. She managed runner-up finishes at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay and the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship in 2008 and finished 25th on the money list.

But her struggles began in 2010, when she failed to register a top-10 finish for three seasons. In 2012, she made the cut in only seven of 15 events. This year, she missed the cut at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix last week and tied for 48th at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in February.

But all that seemed to be behind her Thursday.

"It's great to finally get a good round under my belt," Park said. "It's a little difficult to not play as well as I know I can, but I think with a lot of hard work I can get up there."

Caroline Hedwall and Karrie Webb were a stroke back at 67. Hedwall had eight birdies overall, including six on the front nine, but suffered a double bogey on the 10th hole and a bogey on 16.

"It's always nice to get off to a good start and you're up there right away," Hedwall said.

Webb had six birdies overall and a bogey on 13.

Giulia Sergas and Jessica Korda were tied for fourth at 68. Paula Creamer, Se Ri Pak and Amanda Blumenherst, who had an eagle, were among 10 players three shots off the lead.

Blumenherst was especially pleased with her round.

"I just had a very solid round of golf," she said. "I really didn't line it up where I was dropping long putts. I was hitting the ball really well and when I hit it within six feet, they were birdie putts and the eagle, so I just played consistent golf."

Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 player in the world who won the past two events, finished four shots back at 70. Lewis birdied the first three holes on the front nine, but bogeyed the 9th and 14th.

Lewis, who captured the HSBC Women's Championship in Singapore and the RR Donnelley Founders Cup in Phoenix last week, is shooting for her third consecutive Tour victory.

Regardless of who prevails, a new champion will be crowned when the event concludes Sunday. Yani Tseng, the defending champ, was withdrawn Wednesday morning after she overslept and missed her pro-am time.

NOTES: With March Madness tipping off Thursday, it was inevitable the conversation would turn to hoops. Blumenherst, a Duke grad, predictably said she the Blue Devils would win the national championship despite family conflicts. "My parents went to Indiana, though, so I have them in the finals. So we have a family house divided." Jane Park, who attended UCLA, was asked which team goes further in the postseason, the Lakers or UCLA. "I'm going to say UCLA," she said.
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