Major champion Wie stalks Sharp for LPGA lead
Alena Sharp of Canada plays a shot on the 7th hole during the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, at the Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas, on June 27, 2014 - by Sam Greenwood
Canada's Sharp on Friday had seven birdies and one bogey on the par-71 Pinnacle Country Club course, setting an early target that none of the later starters could match.
Wie came on strong with four of her five birdies on the back nine, and the US star was joined in second place on five-under 66 by Mexico's Alejandra Llaneza, who also played without a bogey.
On a tightly packed leaderboard, South Korea's Ryu So-Yeon led a group of 10 players sharing fourth place on four-under 67.
Ryu was joined by compatriot Oh Ji-Young, Thailand's Moriya Jutanugarn and Pornanong Phatlum, China's Feng Shanshan, Sweden's Caroline Hedwall, the Philippines' Jennifer Rosales, Chile's Paz Echeverria and Americans Emma Jandel and Gerina Piller.
Eleven players were a further stroke back on 68, the big group including South Korea's Choi Na-Yeon, Norway's Suzann Pettersen and rising US star Jessica Korda.
Wie, 24, claimed the first major title of her career with a victory in the US Women's Open at Pinehurst on Sunday.
It was a long-awaited milestone for the one-time prodigy, who gained notoriety as a teen professional who wanted to test herself against top male golfers but has struggled to establish herself as a force on the LPGA tour.
Wie's major breakthrough is part of a strong 2014 campaign in which she also won the LPGA Lotte Championship in her native Hawaii. She has nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts this year.
She arrived in Arkansas after a whirlwind media tour in New York City, and admitted she was feeling tired on the back nine -- even if her score didn't reflect that.
- Running on fumes -
"Definitely running on fumes right now but I'm excited to be here in Arkansas," said Wie, who has missed the cut in this tournament the past three years after a runner-up finish in 2010.
"The crowds are amazing. Just feels great to play golf again."
Wie said the positive momentum from Pinehurst carried over, even if she is feeling the fatigue of her major win and the attention that attended it.
"It definitely gave me confidence to play today," she said. "But definitely it would have been harder if I had a morning tee time today. I was really happy about this late afternoon tee time."
Sharp teed off early on the rain-softened course and described her round as "simple and relaxed".
"Hit a lot of greens today, I only missed four greens," Sharp said. "Drove it well, wasn't really in the rough at all so I got to lift, clean and place so got a perfect lie almost every time.
"Really didn't hit outside of 20 feet much, made a lot of putts."
Sharp said her length off the tee was an advantage on the soft course, but she also benefitted from the superb condition of the greens.
"They're rolling so smooth, it's almost like no one's played on the greens at all," she said. "And then I got the speed down right away which was perfect. It's hard to get the judge of the speed this week with all the rain that we've had, but it's in great shape for all the rain that's fallen here this week."
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