CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Mamiko Higa of Japan rolled in a 10-foot birdie at the final hole to end the day as she started it, with a one-stroke lead, at the U.S. Women’s Open on Friday.
Higa, making her first appearance at the tournament, carded an even-par 71 just before the sun set on a day when a two-hour stoppage for a thunderstorm prevented 45 players from completing the round.
A lightning bolt struck an elm tree adjacent to the 18th fairway during the delay at Country Club of Charleston, but the course had been cleared by then and no injuries were reported.
“That was the first time I saw lighting hit so close, so that was really scary,” said Higa.
After the storm cleared, she returned to complete her round and post a six-under 136 halfway total, one stroke ahead of American Jessica Korda, who shot 68 in the morning.
American amateur Gina Kim (72) was two shots behind, along with Celine Boutier of France, who had completed 14 holes.
Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand (two-over after 16 holes) was one of those who did not finish.
Boutier and Ariya will be among those resuming the second round at 7.15 a.m. local time (1115 GMT) on Saturday.
World number 49 Higa, a five-times winner on the Japan LPGA, said she had not been nervous despite leading after the first round.
“I didn’t feel that much pressure,” she said.
“I was really happy I could finish up a tough day with a birdie. I feel very lucky that I could finish 18 holes today so that I can recover well for tomorrow.”
Second-placed Korda, who along with sister Nelly makes up the best sister duo in women’s golf, stuck with a disciplined game plan, picking off three birdies to go with 15 pars.
Her only bogey of the week came at the 12th hole on Thursday when she got too aggressive with a short approach shot and flew her ball into trouble beyond the green.
“I played pretty conservatively,” she said. “I was trying to be more aggressive on the par fives, where I could take advantage.”
As for her goal of becoming a major champion, she said: “That’s what you play for. At the same time, I feel a lot of luck is always a big part of winning a major championship, making the most putts and the least amount of mistakes.
“Solid golf will always put me up top. If I have a chance, I’ll try to take it.”
Amateur Kim started on a downbeat note with a three-putt at the first hole, but displayed maturity beyond her 19 years, refusing to let it ruffle her feathers.
“I didn’t really take it too hard. I just kind of got a little disappointed for three seconds and then just moved on to the next hole,” Kim said.
Kim’s parents are Spanish professors at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but she attends arch-rival cross-town rival Duke University in Durham.
It has been a busy stint for Kim, who last week was part of the Duke team that won the American collegiate (NCAA) women’s golf championship.
Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford