- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

From combined dispatches

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. | For the second time in four years, Nicole Castrale topped the leader board after the first round of the LPGA Championship.

This time, if she can avoid twisting her ankle on a pesky drain, Castrale might leave Bulle Rock with a memory worth cherishing.

Castrale birdied six of the first nine holes and carded a 7-under 65 Thursday to take a one-shot lead on rookie Anna Nordqvist.

Castrale’s 6-under 30 was the lowest score on the front nine at Bulle Rock since the tournament moved from DuPont Country Club in 2005. Taking advantage of a wet course that rendered the greens slow and true, Castrale played virtually flawless golf until a drive into the rough on 18 led to her only bogey of the day.

The last time Castrale had a record-setting round at Bulle Rock was in 2006, when she opened with a career-low 64. No one in tournament history shot that before at Bulle Rock, and no one has done it since.

But Castrale followed that with a 75, then stepped in a drain after leaving the fitness trailer that night. She sprained her left ankle and ended up tied for 34th.

“I walked home with my shoe in my hand and an ice bag,” she recalled. “I had it taped for two or three months.”

Lesson learned.

“I’ve walked by that drain the past three years, and now you can’t get to it because the tents are on it. So that’s a good thing,” Castrale said.

Her memory of that tournament involves hobbling over the course for the final 36 holes, then playing in a 36-hole Open qualifier the following week.

Now Castrale has the opportunity to replace that story with a far happier one. She sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the opening hole Thursday, and that set the tone for the rest of her sensational round.

“It was good to start off well,” Castrale said. “On the front nine, all my iron shots were going right at the pin, and it was a great feeling.”

Putts of six, 12 and 20 feet produced birdies on Nos. 2, 5 and 6. After a par, she used a pair of 3-foot birdie putts to make the turn at 30.

The back nine wasn’t nearly as impressive, but birdies at 14 and 15 thrust her past Nordqvist atop the leader board.

Castrale has one win in seven years on the LPGA Tour - the 2007 Ginn Tribute - and this year hasn’t finished better than a tie for 15th. But she was better than everyone else Thursday, and she can’t wait to do it again Friday.

“My goal is to hit the fairways and greens and to keep rolling the putter well,” she said. “I can’t go out there and compare what I did today. I might shoot 30 on the back nine and shoot even on the front nine.”

Mickelson has spotty return

MEMPHIS, Tenn. | Phil Mickelson wasted no time firing up fans with birdies on the opening two holes. Then came a sliced tee shot into the water and a nearly four-putt green. He birdied two of the last three holes.

A typical round for one of golf’s most unpredictable stars.

Returning to work for the first time since disclosing last month that his wife has breast cancer, Mickelson got off to a solid start in the St. Jude Classic with a 2-under 68 that left him four shots behind Brian Gay.

Mickelson wore a pink ribbon stitched into the side of his white cap and at times looked fatigued.

Jose Maria Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion recently elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, was the day’s surprise. Still coping with arthritis pain, the Spaniard shot a 66 to finish in a group that included Rich Beem and Graeme McDowell.

Under heavy clouds that brought brief showers midway through his round, Mickelson was easy to spot because of the some 750 fans following him - including one man dressed all in pink.

John Daly’s comeback was for vastly different reasons and the result not quite the same.

He played on the PGA Tour for the first time since a six-month suspension for off-course activities that brought unwanted publicity. Daly opened with eight straight pars and a birdie, but his putter failed him miserably. He followed with three straight bogeys for a 72.

“Probably the worst I’ve putted in five years,” said Daly, who wore a neon green shirt that matched his argyle pants of green and yellow.

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