PITTSFORD, N.Y. — No matter how hard she tried, Paula Creamer couldn’t quite catch Yani Tseng. Neither could anyone else.
Tseng, the top-ranked player in the world, shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday to take a one-shot lead over Creamer after the first round of the LPGA Championship.
The 22-year-old Tseng, already the youngest player to win three majors, made five birdies on the front nine and three more on the back to go with a pair of bogeys as she began her quest for another major title.
“I tried to put it on the fairways as much as I could,” said Tseng, who finished second to Stacy Lewis at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March, the first major of the year. “When you put it on the fairways, you have more chance to make birdies. The second shot I hit it very good.”
Did she ever.
Among her eight birdie putts on what was mostly a sunny, calm day at Locust Hill Country Club, none was longer than the 8-footer she made at No. 15. And although Tseng hit only six of 14 fairways, her strength allowed her to hit solid shots out of the thick rough and she was able to reach 15 of 18 greens in regulation. And she was nearly flawless on the short holes, birdieing all four par 3s on a course that had been softened somewhat by an overnight thunderstorm.
Still, she faltered twice when she failed off the tee. She bogeyed the par-4 13th hole after hitting a “terrible drive” and missing a 12-foot putt for par, then pulled her drive at No. 16, another par 4, and missed an 8-foot par putt.
“It’s hard to put it on (the) fairway. The course is really narrow,” Tseng said. “At Kraft, I tried my best. That’s all I can do. Actually, last night I did think a little bit about Kraft. I try not to think too much.”
Leading Creamer by one shot heading to the 18th tee, Tseng recovered from a bad tee shot that landed in the thick right rough. She hit a 9-iron onto the ridge above the hole, then watched as it rolled down within 4 feet of the pin and calmly sank the birdie putt.
“I’m enjoying what’s happening right now,” said Tseng, who won the State Farm Classic two weeks ago for her second LPGA Tour victory of the season. “The last few weeks just gave me lots of confidence for my putting and my driving, too. So that helps a lot for a major golf course. (It) make me very comfortable.”
Angela Stanford, Meena Lee, Diana D’Alessio and Stacy Prammanasudh were 4 under, and Morgan Pressel, Stacy Lewis, Ryann O’Toole, Amy Hung, Minea Blomqvist, Jennifer Johnson and Hee Young Park were 3 under.
Defending champion Cristie Kerr, who was ailing with a light case of the flu, shot an even-par 72.
Creamer withdrew from this tournament two years ago — before it became a major — with an injury to her left thumb, and last year finished tied for 42nd, never going lower than her first-round 71.
She was pumped after a solid first round that matched her best at Locust Hill.
“Normally, I shoot myself in the foot after the first day with putting pressure on myself and wanting to do so well,” said Creamer, who went out in the morning in a threesome right behind Tseng. “It’s nice to be on the other side going into tomorrow. I just need to keep it going and try to make as many birdies as I can.”
Creamer missed a terrific chance to tie — or even take the lead — when she misread a 45-foot eagle putt at the par-5 17th hole and ended up three-putting for par. She then rallied with a birdie at 18, hitting a 7-iron from 150 yards within 2 feet of the pin.
“I gave myself a lot of opportunities. I made a lot of good putts,” Creamer said. “I kind of was kicking myself after 17. I had a good birdie chance there, just two putts. But I finished strong, and I feel good about where I’m sitting.”
A year ago, Kerr overpowered Locust Hill. She won by 12 shots, finishing at 19-under 269 to win her second major. That matched the lowest score in relation to par in a women’s major and tied for the second-largest in the history of major championships.
That was a distant memory on this day. Fighting a mild case of the flu, Kerr never found that magic despite starting birdie, birdie as the gallery roared its approval.
Then it stopped. Kerr made bogey at the par-3 fifth hole and had two more at Nos. 10 and 14.
“I think that’s hard to duplicate. This is a different year — 6 under is leading. It’s not like somebody’s shooting 10 under,” said Kerr, who began feeling ill on Wednesday night and didn’t sleep well. “I felt a little bit uptight today just because I wasn’t feeling that great. I was trying maybe to force things a little bit. I’ve got to go out and get some rest and get in a good mindset for tomorrow.”
Still, a birdie at No. 17 and a nice par save at the closing hole put Kerr, second in the world rankings, in a good frame of mind.
“I couldn’t find the rhythm and hit some really bad shots out there, and it still could have been 2 or 3 under,” Kerr said. “So, considering everything, I’ll be OK for tomorrow. They (the clutch putts on the final two holes) were pretty big for the mindset going into the next three days. Having shot even the first day is a lot different than shooting 2 over.”
After an overcast start, the sun broke through in late morning and stayed out most of the day for most of the leaders. A brief shower in late afternoon was followed by a torrential thunderstorm that forced suspension of play for just over 2 hours with 58 players still on the course, and six players will complete their rounds on Friday morning.
DIVOTS: There were eight Americans among the top 13 after the first round, and it wasn’t exactly a banner day for four of the top five in the World Golf Rankings. Besides Kerr, third-ranked Suzann Pettersen also shot 72, fourth-ranked Jiyai Shin had a 3-over 75, and No. 5 Na Yeon Choi finished at 1 over. … Karrie Webb, a two-time winner this year, had a 2-over 74, as did fellow Hall of Famer Juli Inkster.