Jodi Ewart-Shadoff almost reprised her 65 from round one last year at Royal Adelaide today, and with a seven-under par 66, the Englishwoman leads the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, just as she did in 2019.
But for Ewart-Shadoff, 32, a nine-year LPGA Tour veteran who remains winless at this level, it is going to be a nervous sleep unless she is superhuman.
A bunch of the best players in the world are in her shadow, including world No.9 Jeongeun Lee6 and former world No.1 Inbee Park, both at six-under par and just a shot back.
Defending champion Nelly Korda of the United States is also in the pack after opening with a 69.
Australia’s Major winner, Hannah Green, is also nicely poised after an opening 69 to be just three back and the best of the local hopes, along with world No.8 Minjee Lee who scrapped out a 70 despite a poor start.
But it was Ewart Shadoff’s day at Royal Adelaide. She did not miss a single fairway, hit 15 of 18 greens, and had just 26 putts in the perfect morning conditions. She made seven birdies, and not a single bogey.
“I really love the golf courses here,” she said afterward. “I played well last year. I played well here when it was here a couple of years ago too, so I think just go out there tomorrow and try and do the same thing.”
Ewart-Shadoff is the world No.87, which tells you she is no slouch, despite the lack of ticks in the ‘W’ column. She was second behind In-Kyun Kim in the Women’s British Open in 2017 and fourth in the US Women’s Open in 2013, and has represented Europe in three Solheim Cups.
Last year, she fell away on the final day and ended up tied for eighth. This time around, she feels more optimistic. “Yeah, I feel ready now,” she said. “I feel like every part of my game is up to the challenge. It’s hopefully going to be a good year and hopefully get that win.’’
It was a benign day at Royal Adelaide and the scoring reflected it, especially in the morning when it was breathless. The scoring average was 72.8, just under the par of 73, and half the field broke par.
Even in the afternoon, there was no more than a one-club zephyr and the likes of Park, a seven-time Major winner, was able to negotiate the course in 67. It was day to capitalise, for the winds are bound to pick up.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be a whole different day tomorrow,’’ said Marina Alex, the American who is tied for fourth after a 68 today. “The forecast seems like a bit more windy, so just have to be in more of a grind mode and maybe less aggressive than I was today with my shots into the greens. So, I’ll just have to come out, fresh start, blank slate, whole new game plan.”
Park’s day began with a hole-out eagle from just more than 100 metres at the first hole, and she was in a share of the lead by the time she got up and down from behind the green for birdie at the par-5 17th hole. But what she called her only mishit of the day, a flared tee shot into the fairway trap at the 18th, cost her a shot and she ended up sitting tied for second.
As one of the great putters of all time, it was ironic to hear her complain the other day about her form with the short stick, but she certainly had it back today. “There was really not much of a secret,” she said. “I just had my rhythm changed a little bit. I had a little bit of a slower rhythm on the putting stroke today and it seemed like it was working better.”
She was not kidding. She had just 26 blows with the old putter she reverted to after the ISPS Handa Vic Open, one of two she has brought with her to Australia.
Having played in the slightly more difficult conditions today, Park has a morning tee-time on Friday and – theoretically at least – could move into position. In her first appearance at a Women’s Australian Open since 2012 and chasing that elusive Olympic team position, she is a player to be feared.
The same applies to Australia’s Green, who carted two MyGolf juniors around with her and scarcely stopped smiling. She has a new life as a star of the sport, and so far, she is handling it with aplomb. “It’s different,’’ she said. “I’m definitely soaking it all in, that’s for sure.’’
Tomorrow’s first tee-offs are at 7am, with Green hitting off at 7.44 and Park in the group behind her. Korda, Jeongeun Lee and Minjee Lee tee off at 12.34, and could potentially get the worst of it. But the wind is forecast to reach only 20km/h. Without its natural protection, Royal Adelaide might just cop another hammering.