Golf: Webb shares early lead at US Women's Open

Australian golfer Karrie Webb.
Australian golfer Karrie Webb. PHOTO: AFP

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania (REUTERS) - Hall of Famer Karrie Webb enjoyed a second-nine birdie spree that carried her to a four-under 66 and a share of the early first round lead before weather interrupted the US Women's Open on Thursday.

The 40-year-old Australian, a seven-time Major winner, started at the 10th and after a steady tour of Lancaster Country Club's difficult back nine posted birdies at the second, fourth, sixth and eighth holes on the way home.

Tied at 66 was little-known American Marina Alex, who also took advantage of rain-softened conditions on the long, hilly layout with three birdies on the front nine.

Late in the afternoon wave of players, a tornado watch in the area gave way to a halt of play as the skies darkened, thunder boomed and heavy rain fell in the heart of Pennsylvania's Amish country.

One stroke back was South Korean Amy Yang after a 67, with compatriot and 2012 winner Choi Na Yeon also at three-under, through 15 holes, along with American Jane Park, through 13.

They were followed by six players in the clubhouse at 68. Morgan Pressel, who had reached four-under by her 14th hole of the day before slipping back, was among those at 68 along with fellow Americans Austin Ernst, Sydnee Michaels and Liz Nagel, and South Koreans Chun In Gee and Lee Mi Hyang.

World number one Park In Bee of South Korea stood two-under through 14 holes when the weather delay struck, along with 16-year-old Chinese amateur He Mu-ni, who had completed 11 holes.

Another shot back was a large group at one-under 69 that included world number three Stacy Lewis, who was one shot better than second-ranked Lydia Ko of New Zealand.

Webb, whose last Major triumph came nine years ago at the Kraft Nabisco, played a remarkably solid round. The winner of 41 career LPGA titles hit every fairway and 17 of 18 greens in her impressive round.

She said: "Playing rounds like this is what motivates me. I've worked really hard over the last year, because I changed coaches. And what's really pleasing is to play like this ... the swing is starting to be a little more automatic.

"I don't have to think about what body part moves when."

As for her unheralded co-leader Alex, who missed five cuts in a row this season, some tinkering with her swing has also paid off.

Said the 24-year-old, whose best finish in her 2014 LPGA rookie season was a tie for ninth at the British Open: "I just feel more comfortable and I'm making freer swings and the results are showing from that."

Her only previous US Open experience came in 2009 at Saucon Valley where she missed the cut after shooting 160.

"It's totally different," she explained. "I was an amateur. I qualified like the last spot on my sectional. I think I was just finishing my first year of college. My game then and now is not even remotely the same.

"I was a nervous kid, pretty much. Now I have been out here my second year. It's just more comfortable and more familiar and I know that it is a major and it is the US Open, but I see the same faces every week."