GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Being near the top of leaderboard is familiar territory for Stacy Lewis the past two years.
Week in, week out, Lewis is there and nothing changed in the opening round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The players near Lewis aren’t in their comfort zone, however, and it remains to be seen whether three-time NCAA player of the year Amanda Blumenherst, LPGA rookie leader Moriya Jutanugarn and the perplexing Michelle Wie can stay with her in the $1.5 million event near the Atlantic City casino resort.
Blumenherst and Jutanugarn shot 5-under 66 to share the lead, a stroke ahead of Lewis and two in front of Wie.
Beating Lewis is not going to be easy. The world’s No. 2 player has won twice and posted eight top-10 finishes in 11 events.
“I guess you just get more confidence being there, you start trusting yourself more, but it’s really cool to think how far I’ve come,” said Lewis, who has zipped up the ranking over the past two seasons. “I wasn’t even the top ranked American this time last year, and now I’m kind of going back and forth for No. 1 in the world. It’s just nice to keep that consistency going. I’ve had a bunch of top 10s over the last year, and that’s what I’m trying to do every week.”
Lewis had three tap-in birdies, including two at par 5s. She made two 20-footers. A bad drive led to her bogey.
Wie, who a decade ago made one of her first appearances on the women’s tour as a 13-year-old in this event, has never lived up to expectations, winning twice since joining the tour in 2009. She has missed five of 10 cuts this year and her best finish was a tie for 28th in Hawaii. Her other four starts have resulted in no better than a tie for 41st.
“I think nothing really goes exactly the way you plan,” Wie said after making five birdies and two bogeys to tie her lowest numerical score for the season. “There may be hiccups in the way and little adjustments along the way, and I think I did that.”
The biggest adjustment Wie has made is with her putting stroke. She looks like a backward inverted L when putting and one has to wonder whether her back will stand up to that style. Of course, there has been criticism.
“You can’t please everyone,” Wie said. “I’m not going to go around my way living my life trying to please everyone because in the end it doesn’t really matter. They’re not the ones that are living my life. They’re not the ones that ultimately are in my life. So I just am so grateful for my friends, my family and for the people inside my circle that believe in me. “
For Wie to stay close, she needs to keep her drives in the fairway.
“I mean, it’s not really surprising to see Michelle play well,” Lewis said. “This golf course, I am a little surprised on this course because if you can get some shots going sideways you can make some pretty big numbers. That’s good. She needs those good rounds.”
Blumenherst, who is married to Oakland Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman, has missed cuts in six of eight events. The former Duke star has never finished better than a tie for fifth since joining the tour in 2010 after winning at qualifying school.
“It feels amazing,” said Blumenherst, who had an eagle, four birdies and a bogey. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a very solid round of golf and felt like I just played well throughout the entire day. It was a lot of fun out there because it’s been a challenging start to the season.”
Jutanugarn, whose 17-year-old sister, Ariya, was the halfway leader at Kingsmill in Virginia this month, has missed the cut in two of her last four events after getting off to a quick start. The 18-year-old Jutanugarn, from Thailand, made two of her six birdies on her first two holes. She had one bogey.
The Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club was the big winner. Only 18 of the 143 players who finished, including just five in the afternoon round, broke par on the 6,155-yard course that played tougher because of wind and bumpy greens.
Beatriz Recari of Spain and Hee Young Park headed a group at 2 under after posting the best rounds of the players who teed off in the afternoon. Park’s South Korean countrywomen, Cella Choi, played her first eight holes in 5 under, but gave four shots back as the afternoon wore on and finished at 1 under.
Many of the tour’s leading players struggled with the wind coming off Reed’s Bay and the tough greens, which are bumpy because the recent cold weather has helped the poa annua thrive.
World No. 1 Inbee Park was in a group at 74 along with Paula Creamer and Na Yeon Choi. Third-ranked Suzann Pettersen had a 76. Among the other notables, Jiyai Shin had a 71, Lizette Salas and I.K. Kim shot 72, and Cristie Kerr had a 73.