Norwegian Vibeke Stensrud carded a five under par back nine to take her to six under par and the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Waterford Crystal Irish Open. The 26-year-old's 66 was the culmination of a day of low scoring at the par 72 Faithlegg golf course.
Several players got off to a good start by driving the 274 yard par four first hole, giving themselves a chance of eagle. But whilst most who started off with a flourish went on to fall back to earth with a bang, Stensrud played steady golf which gradually improved as the round went on.
One under after a front nine which included no dropped shots and one birdie, the Norwegian came into her own on the back nine, whose five birdies up to 16 took her to six under par for the round.
Stensrud, who has so far been unable to repeat the success she showed as an amateur, when she won three Norwegian titles as well as the 1993 European Championships, said she is pleased that her game seems finally to be coming into its own.
"I was struggling with my putting a bit but today it just came together and now I am leading on my own for the first time, which feels good." Clubhouse leader for her first time before Stensrud came in was Tour rookie, Marine Monnet. Monnet, who turned pro after winning the British Amateur last summer, finished with a 12 foot putt for birdie at the last to take her to five under par for the round, a score she said she is delighted with.
"I am very happy with how it is for my first year on Tour," said Monnet, who has already had top 10 finishes in the Women's Australian Open, the Australian Masters and the Hannover Expo 2000 Ladies Open this year.
"Today was the first time I had a professional caddy," the French player continued. "Terry (often the caddy to Laura Davies) is always with you and helps with the choice of club. I think it made a big difference to my score."
Davies, who is using another of her favourite caddies, Paul Clifford, for this year's Irish Open, also had a promising start to the tournament. Three under par for the round, she goes into the second day three behind Stensrud, a strong threat to the leadboard. One ahead of Davies on four under are Sweden's Maria Hjorth, New Zealand's Lynette Brooky and Natascha Fink of Austria. It looked as if Brooky was going to join playing partner, Monnet, at the top of the clubhouse leaderboard, until she bogeyed the last to drop back to four under par.
With 1998 Irish Open champion, Sophie Gustafson, hovering on one under and two time 1999 winner, Trish Johnson, on two under, the next three days promise to be exciting ones.