By Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY
HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — The gnarly rough rimming Bulle Rock Golf Course was drenched, there were huge puddles in the clubhouse parking lot, the gray clouds overhead were ominous and the forecast for Thursday's first round of the McDonald's LPGA Championship was threatening.
Yet Nicole Castrale found something nice to look at — her golf shots.
"On the front nine all of my iron shots were going right at (the flag), and it was a great feeling," Castrale said after polishing off a 7-under-par 65 to grab the first-round lead in the LPGA tour's second major of the season.
SCORES: LPGA Championship
Propelled by a scorching front-nine 6-under 30 in cool temperatures, Castrale shot to the top of the leaderboard and has a one-stroke lead on rookie Anna Nordqvist heading into today's second round. Another shot back was Shanshan Feng, with seven players three shots in back. Defending champion Yani Tseng shot 73, world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa and Natalie Gulbis 72s and Michelle Wie and Angela Stanford 70s.
Most of the players in the 151-player field took advantage of the course softened by persistent rains, which allowed them to lift, clean and place golf balls in the fairway. While the layout played longer because tee shots couldn't roll out on the spongy fairways, the greens were yielding to all clubs as players, 33 of whom broke par, went pin-seeking.
"You can definitely fire at the pins because the greens are receptive," said Castrale, who has one win. "It was good to start off well."
Castrale did everything well except for a bogey on the 18th hole. Four of her eight birdies came from within 6 feet, and she added birdie putts of 12, 18, 20 and 25 feet. After she saw so many good shots, though, Castrale admitted she didn't see her good round coming.
"That's the thing with golf, you can never say you've got it," she said. "Once you say you've got it, I don't think you have it. You are always trying to get better out here.
"So I've been working really hard with my golf coach, Bill Harmon, and my husband (and caddie), Craig. I think it's coming together. All I can do is keep trying to get better and see what happens."
Nordqvist didn't see much when she woke up Thursday — it was pitch black at 4:30 a.m. But she awoke her game in time to be the first player off the first tee in the tournament and turned in her career-low round of 66.
This is just Nordqvist's fifth start of the year. As a rookie, she's making adjustments to her game and life, trying to soak in as much experience and knowledge from her older colleagues.
"You've got to learn to live this lifestyle," she said. "It's just a matter of learning how to prepare. You don't want to practice too much and you don't want to practice too little. It's just getting that balance with everything."
One thing she's already learned, however, is to not look ahead.
"Coming into this year, I don't think I can expect too much," she said. "The biggest goal for this year is to learn as much as I can.
"Obviously (the lead) is where you want to be. I'm a rookie and haven't played that much this year, but, I mean, I'm here to learn, and just have fun. There's three more days, and I really look forward to this week."
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