Sweden's Carin Koch and Sophie Gustafson opened a four shot lead after the opening round of the inaugural TSN Ladies World Cup of Golf after firing a combined score of four under par 140 today over the challenging Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort.
Koch led the Swedish challenge with a three under par 69, while Gustafson, winner of last month's Weetabix Women's British Open, posted a one under 71.
The pair lead from the USA, Australia and Germany, all of whom finished on level par, while pre-tournament favourites England share fifth place with Scotland and New Zealand a further shot behind.
Despite starting with a bogey at the third when she failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker, Koch recovered with a birdie from 12 feet at the fourth, which she followed with consecutive birdies at the sixth, seventh and eighth.
"I played pretty decent and putted very well on the front nine," said Koch,
winner of the Evian Tour's Chrysler Open earlier in the season.
"It's a great course, but also very challenging. It's in beautiful condition, the greens are very quick. It's pretty perfect actually." Gustafson also enjoyed a birdie run at the seventh, eighth and ninth to give Sweden the lead at four under par at the turn, which the in-form duo maintained over the back half after they posted a pair of level par 36's.
"We helped each other a few times," added Koch, who was given a boost prior to this event when she was selected for the European team for next month's Solheim Cup.
"A few times I asked Sophie for some help reading the line of putts and a few times she asked me. It worked well, and my Solheim selection has helped my confidence this week."
Germany's Elisabeth Esterl matched Koch for the lowest individual score of the day after posting a 69 made up of four birdies and a solitary bogey when she came up short at the par four eighth.
Esterl's playing partner Tina Fischer carded a three over 75 to give the German pair a combined total of 144.
"I'm very happy after that round," said a delighted Esterl. "This is the
first time I've represented Germany as a professional and it makes me very
proud to have played well.
"The course is very tough and playing even longer because of the wet weather and the wind. We missed a few good birdie opportunities and gave ourselves a target of four birdies over the last three holes. We managed three so we're pretty happy.
"Tina also played well, although she had three three-putts. But we sorted that out on practise green straight after and it should be okay tomorrow."
The USA team looked set to finish the opening day alone in second place until a bogey from Kellee Booth at the par five last moved them back to level par.
Booth fired a two under par 70 made up of six birdies, a double bogey and two bogeys, while her partner Heather Bowie returned a two over par 74.
"We played together at Arizona State University so we know each other pretty well," said Booth, a member of the USA Curtis Cup team that lost to GB and Ireland in 1996.
"We had a reasonable start and although I doubled the second after pulling my tee shot into the lip of a bunker, we managed to pull it together mid round." The pick of Booth's birdies came at the par four 13th when she fired a five iron from 167 yards to within a foot of pin.
Alison Munt was one of only eight players to shoot below the card in difficult conditions, and her one under par 71 combined with Jane Crafter's one over 73 saw the Australian's take a share of second place.
Pre-tournament favourites England recovered from a poor start thanks to a four under 32 on the back nine of Adare Manor from former world number one Laura Davies.
Despite reaching the turn three over par, Davies regrouped with four birdies in nine holes for a one under par 71, while playing partner Johnson posted a two over 74.
Scotland returned a one over par combined aggregate thanks to a level par 72 from Kathryn Marshall and a one over 73 from Catriona Matthew, while the New Zealand pair Lynette Brooky and Marnie McGuire posted 71 and 74 respectively.