Brooke Henderson of Canada acknowledges fans during the first round of the LPGA Classic at Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, Ont., on Thursday. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada’s Sharp, Marchand in contention at LPGA stop, Henderson seven shots back

CAMBRIDGE, Ont. — Preferred lies and ideal conditions left Whistle Bear Golf Club in a prone position for Thursday’s opening round at the Manulife LPGA Classic. Canadians Alena Sharp and Brittany Marchand took full advantage.

Sharp eagled the par-5 12th hole en route to a 6-under 66 while Marchand opened with a 67. Both were within striking distance of Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and South Korea’s Mi Hyang Lee, who shared the lead at 8-under 64.

“I knew I needed to shoot a low round,” Sharp said. “But you don’t really want to think about a score in your mind. The way I’m hitting it I knew I was going to have a lot of chances and I took advantage of the par fives. I was 5 under on those so that really helped me out.”

South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim, Belgium’s Gonzalez Escall and China’s Shanshan Feng were one shot off the lead at 65.

Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., had an uneven performance in the warm, sunny conditions. She was visibly frustrated after missing a few short birdie putts around the turn and finished with a 71.

Henderson declined to speak with reporters after signing her scorecard. She eventually offered a few pithy post-round comments to an LPGA Tour official.

“I hit a lot of really great shots and the putts just didn’t drop today,” Henderson said. “But hopefully I can switch things around tomorrow and everything will be good.”

Pettersen, meanwhile, recently lost her yardage book for the course and had to write notes from scratch this week. She trusted her eye and it paid off with six birdies over one eight-hole stretch.

“We woke up this morning to perfect conditions,” she said. “You can fire at pins and get to par fives, which is fun. I think it’s the best way to set up a golf course and get low scores.”

Sharp, from Hamilton, started on the back nine. She bogeyed her opening hole before recovering on the 12th, using a 6-iron to leave herself a 15-footer for eagle.

Sharp connected and followed it up with three birdies over her next four holes.

“I was on a nice run,” she said. “It was just easy. Felt really simple.”

Marchand, a Symetra Tour player entered as a sponsor’s invite, also had an early morning tee time. The Orangeville, Ont., native fired seven birdies over her round to go with a pair of bogeys.

She even had the clubhouse lead for a spell.

“I’ve shot 5 under before but never in an LPGA event, so it’s pretty cool,” Marchand said.

The course dried out a little as the round progressed. Warm temperatures were expected to continue through Sunday’s final round.

The 6,613-yard track is still recovering from an unusually wet and cool spring in the area. Players were allowed to lift, clean and replace balls on closely mowed fairway areas.

Those who kept drives long and tight could attack the soft greens.

“I just made a lot of key putts today and that kept me going,” Sharp said. “I made a lot of six- to 10-footers, which is what I’ve been working on. It’s nice to see the results coming early in the tournament.”

Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England and Emily Pedersen of Norway were tied with Sharp in sixth place at 66.

Joining Marchand at 67 were Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, South Korea’s In Gee Chun and Americans Angel Yin, Lexi Thompson and Lee Lopez. Defending champion Caroline Masson of Germany opened with a 70.

There are 10 other Canadians entered in the US$1.7-million event. They include Augusta James (70) of Orangeville, Calgary’s Jennifer Ha (72), Grace St. Germain (72) of Penticton, B.C., Maude-Aimee LeBlanc (74) of Sherbrooke, Que., Jaclyn Lee of Calgary (75), Charlottetown’s Lorie Kane (76), Jennifer Kirby (76) of Brantford, Ont., Vivian Tsui (76) of Markham, Ont., Maddie Szeryk (78) of London, Ont., and Samantha Richdale (79) of Kelowna, B.C.

Notes: The field features 24 of the 37 rookies on Tour, the most first-year players to appear at one tournament this season. … This event made its debut in 2012 at Grey Silo Golf Course in nearby Waterloo. … Manulife will not continue as title sponsor after this season. The LPGA is hoping to return in the future with a new sponsor, but nothing has been finalized.

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