SOUTHPORT, England - Ayako Uehara of Japan felt confident with the putter and played in the best weather Royal Birkdale has to offer. It was the right combination to take the lead Thursday in the Women's British Open at 4-under-par 68.
Pot bunkers can present problems on any links course. Throw in some thick grass and par becomes a problem.
Honolulu's Michelle Wie could attest to that. The U.S. Women's Open champion spent too much time chipping out of sand and rough on her way to a 75.
Wie, a Punahou School alumnus, was introduced on the first tee as the U.S Women's Open champion, then posted her highest score of the year. Wie had to birdie the par-5 18th hole - the only time she hit driver.
"Thought I made a good game plan," Wie said. "Just didn't hit good shots today."
Cristie Kerr didn't make a birdie, shot 81 and withdrew with a sore back. Only nine players broke par, all but two of them in the relative calm of a sunny morning along the Irish Sea.
"It's only going to get harder," defending champion Stacy Lewis said after a 71. "Anything under par on this golf course is a good score."
Uehara's lone mistake came when she bogeyed the opening hole. She made three birdies in a four-hole stretch, added two birdies on the back nine and built a one-shot lead over Mo Martin.
"Ayako obviously put up a really good number," said Lewis, who played in her group. "She seems like she wasn't in trouble at all. She was just greens, greens, center of the green. You can kind of learn a little bit from that and maybe not go at so many pins."
Morgan Pressel scrambled her way to a 70, joined by Sarah Kemp and Mina Harigae. The only players who broke par in the afternoon were former U.S. Women's Open champion So Yeon Ryu and Amy Yang, who played in the final group at the U.S. Women's Open last month. Both shot 71.
Pressel had 23 putts, though only four of them were for birdie. She escaped with par when she found trouble off the tee and one time salvaged bogey. Playing her third shot from the right rough to a pin on the right side of the tough 16th green protected by a pot bunker, Pressel played short of the green and got up-and-down to limit the damage. Her putter made all the difference.
"I was happy that I made it look easier than it actually was," Pressel said.
Paula Creamer was 5-over after five holes and rallied for a 75. The best comeback belonged to Jessica Korda, who went out in 39 and then made four birdies on the back nine to return to even par. Karrie Webb, Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen and Kraft Nabisco champion Lexi Thompson also were at even par.
Wie tried to rely on her powerful stinger off the tee, using mostly hybrids, to stay short of the bunkers and out of the rough. But she hit only seven fairways, leading to three of her bogeys.
"I definitely felt like my tempo was a little bit off," Wie said. "But it's a long way until Sunday, and I battled out there. It's not the score I was looking forward to on Thursday, but it could have been a lot worse."