With a bit of luck, Meena Lee jumps to lead

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- South Korean Meena Lee had a bit of a lucky escape at the 18th hole as she handed in a 7-under-par 65, which gave her a two-shot lead in the first round of the Women's British Open. It also matched Sergio Garcia's opening 65 from the 2007 Open over these links.

Although a TV buggy drove into the waters of the infamous Barry Burn, Lee, 29, hit a second shot that bounced over the hazard. To her obvious relief, her ball ended up on the green, and she was able to sign off with one more par against her seven birdies.

Three Americans were high on the leaderboard. Brittany Lincicome was two shots back at 5-under, Angela Stanford was in a group at 4-under, and Paula Creamer finished in a pack at 3-under.

It was midnight in South Korea when Lee finished, but her father, Myound Woo, had watched on TV and was soon on the phone with her.

"He tells me that my swing was good and everything looked good," Lee said.

Though Lincicome played most of her 18 holes in early morning sun, Lee knew nothing but rain from the first tee. But South Korea, where it rains a lot, apparently makes the best in waterproof and windproof clothing.

"It was a little bit raining," Lee said to an audience that actually thought it was raining a lot, "but it wasn't that bad. I didn't notice it too much."

Lee, who began learning the piano at age 5, practiced piano for two or three hours every day until she was 15, when she decided she wanted a change.

"It was boring," she said, giving a demonstration on a tabletop of how she played scales over and over.

After switching to golf, she devoted even more time to practice, leaving school at 1 p.m. and spending five or six hours on the range. She continues to do as much now and, like many Asian players, is at her most lethal with a putter in hand.

In her 65 on Thursday, she had five single putts -- and very nearly a seventh, as her 12-footer at the 18th missed by the proverbial whisker.

While Lee is only average off the tee, Lincicome is among the longest. In her 5-under tally, she hit what she laughingly described as "an awesome drive" down the 467-yard, par-5 14th, with the ball finishing some 300 yards down the fairway. All she needed was a little 6-iron to the green, where she holed from 10 feet for the eagle.

Lincicome was half-lucky with the weather, but Caroline Hedwall, first out at 6:30 a.m. and the winner last year of the Open's amateur medal, had sunshine all the way as she handed in a 69, which gave her the early lead. Hedwall, from Sweden, has her twin sister, Jacqueline, on the bag. Jacqueline is a good golfer in her own right and is attending Louisiana State University before she enters the European Tour's qualifying school in the winter of 2012.

Caroline left Oklahoma State after two years because she thought she was ready to play as a professional. She failed to win her tour card in the States, but succeeded in Europe -- and thanks her lucky stars for the way things have worked out.

"I discovered that it was quite nice to be in Europe and close to home, and it turned out to be good for me. I'm not sure that I'm ready to move to the States just yet," said the player who reminds many of a young Laura Davies.

Hedwall has won two tournaments in her rookie year in Europe -- the Finnair Tournament and the Slovakian Open. She also defeated the men -- the men in question included Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey -- in the first of the new Power Play tournaments at Celtic Manor.

Hedwall thinks she needs to come out on top this week or next if she is to qualify for the European Solheim Cup side for Killeen Castle in September. If she fails on that score, she knows she could be a recipient of one of Alison Nicholas' four wild cards.

"I feel I have a good chance to get a wild card, but I don't want to have too high expectations because I don't know what they're looking for," she said.

The answer is: players like her.

Nicholas is hugely taken with Hedwall's swing and her attitude.

"She's been a great find," said the captain.

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