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Sichuan pair sets early pace

YANG Taoli and Yang Hongmei emerged the early favorites to capture the inaugural China LPGA Tour title yesterday as the Sichuan natives each carded a 4-under 68 for a two-shot lead during the first round of the US$50,000 Beijing Orient Pearl Championship.

Thailand's Porani Chutichai and Shanghai-based Jiangsu native Shen Yanhua were equal third after a 70 at the Beijing Orient Pearl Golf and Country Club, while four players were in equal fifth with 73. Xia Xin, who got into the field via Monday qualifying, was the top amateur following a 74

Yang Hongmei, who won twice on the old Orient Masters Tour last year with victories in Beijing and Wenzhou, started her campaign with a flawless bogey-free round that featured four birdies, including a chip-in from a greenside bunker on the 412-yard 16th hole.

"That chip-in from the bunker on 16 was the highlight of my round," said the Haikou-based veteran who was playing in a group with Porani and Shen. "Generally I am pleased with this round, the first round of the new CLPGA Tour, but I'm a little disappointed with my short game. I am not good at 60 to 70 yards into the green."

Yang Taoli, playing one group in front of Yang Hongmei in the calm morning conditions, opened her round with a birdie and then reeled off four more, including a near ace on the 176-yard 17th hole where she put her tee shot to within a foot of the pin with a six-iron. She then found bunker trouble and bogeyed the 499-yard, par-five 18th.

"I birdied the first hole so I felt comfortable from the very beginning. Today I was 100 percent in greens in regulation until the last hole. My irons were very good," said Yang Taoli who posted four runner-up or equal runner-up finishes last year. "I haven't thought too much about winning, maybe that's why I am playing well. The peaceful mind is a key point today. The next two days I will try and keep this mind set."

Porani, who was using a revamped swing for the first time since beginning to work with new coach Shane Wilding, said she could feel the difference in her approach and second shots.

"It's an okay start for me because this is the first tournament where I have used my new swing. But I feel like I can do better than this. My putting could be better," said the 23-year-old, third at last month's Thailand LPGA in Chonburi.

"Today I played safe, but tomorrow I will play aggressive. Today I was just happy to put my ball around the pin. Tomorrow I need to attack the pins and get closer."

The China LPGA Tour, created by the China Golf Association to foster the development of the women's pro game in the country, will play seven events in its inaugural season. The first six tournaments - Beijing, Yantai, Shanghai, Ningbo, Wenzhou and Xinjiang - each feature a prize purse of US$50,000.

The tour concludes in December with the fourth edition of the US$250,000 Orient China Ladies Open, which is co-sanctioned with the Korea LPGA.


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