Higa leads as rookies rule at US Women's Open

Miami (AFP) –


Japan's Mamiko Higa fired the lowest ever debut round at the US Women's Open on Thursday, carding a six-under-par 65 to open up a one-shot lead at the Country Club of Charleston.

The 25-year-old from Okinawa, playing in the tournament for the first time, showed no signs of stagefright on her way to a bogey-free total.

Higa launched a superb first round with a run of three consecutive birdies on the third, fourth and fifth holes before a further birdie at the ninth took her to four under at the turn.

Two more birdies on the back nine left her at six under, one shot clear of German rookie Esther Henseleit, another US Women's Open debutant, and American amateur Gina Kim, who both posted five-under-par 66s.

"I didn't expect much here, to come here and play that well," Higa said.

"I came here on a Saturday, and since then, I not only golf, but I enjoy the life here. So I'll keep enjoying it and enjoying it, and just come in to the golf course, and I just enjoyed 18 holes today."

Higa said she had adjusted to the hot, humid conditions in South Carolina by limiting her practice.

"It's really, really hot here, so I try not to waste my energy," she said "So short practice and just staying calm and just get rest."

Higa's fellow debutant Henseleit was similarly flawless in her maiden US Women's Open round, sinking five birdies and 13 pars en route to her bogey-free 66.

- Second chance -

It marked a fairytale debut for Henseleit, who feared her chances of playing in the tournament were over after she lost a playoff in qualifiers in London.

She was eventually handed a slot as one of the first alternates.

"Back at the qualifier in London, I was doing really well, and then I played some stupid bogeys in the end and lost in the playoff, and I felt like, OK, there's no chance I could play here, and it was really sad," Henseleit said.

"And when I got the message, like maybe 1 1/2 weeks ago, and, of course, I couldn't imagine to like sit here and do that good."

"I played good the last few months, but it's kind of my first time playing in the US, and playing in such a good field. So it's huge for me."

Henseleit found herself sharing second with US amateur player Kim, who had a wild round which included six birdies, an eagle and three bogeys.

The 19-year-old from New Mexico's highlight was a brilliant eagle on the 391-yard par four eighth.

Henseleit and Kim were one shot ahead of France's Celine Boutier, who was in fourth after a four-under-par 67.

South Korea's Kim Sei-young and Spain's Azahara Munoz shared fifth after posting 68s, while a group of seven players were two under on 69.

Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn meanwhile struggled to get to grips with the course, carding four bogeys and three birdies for a one-over-par 72.