EVANS, Ga. — Rose Zhang lived up to her billing as the best female amateur in the world by playing bogey-free and handling the par 5s at Champions Retreat on Wednesday for a 6-under 66 to take a one-shot lead in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
For the last two champions, it was a day to forget.
Anna Davis, who won last year at age 16, didn’t realize she could only lift, clean and place her golf ball in the short grass. Her opening two shots were in light rough, and she picked up the ball to clean off the mud both times.
That became a two-shot penalty for each instance. She was told on the fourth hole there likely would be a penalty. Davis made double bogey there.
“If you look at my score on 4, you’ll see how it affected me,” Davis said with a smile. “I was taken aback. I had a good round if you don’t count the first hole.”
When she finished, her 5 on the opening hole turned into a 9. Her hard-fought 72 — she was 3 under over the last 14 holes — turned into a 76.
“I tried to forget the first hole happened,” Davis said. “All I can really do is have that give me motivation to do well tomorrow. I’m playing well. I have confidence I can do well tomorrow.”
It was worse for Tsubasa Kajitani, the 19-year-old from Japan who won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2021. She was not able to return last year. She failed to make a birdie Wednesday and wound up with an 84, leaving her in last place among the 72 players.
Another favorite, Pernilla Lindblad of Sweden, didn’t make birdie until her final hole and finished with a 78. Lindblad finished one shot behind the winner in each of the last two years at Augusta.
The 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur runner-up and LSU senior will make her third appearance in this championship. In each of the past two years, she finished three rounds one stroke behind the champion.
Zhang had a one-shot lead over Andrea Lignell of Sweden, a senior at Mississippi. Only 10 other players broke par on a windy day with soggy conditions. That included Emilia Migliaccio, who lost in a playoff to Kajitani in 2021.
The top 30 and ties after Thursday at Champions Retreat make the cut. Everyone in the field gets a practice round at Augusta National on Friday ahead of the final round on Saturday.
Zhang, a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford, has been the dominant amateur in women’s golf by winning the Mark H. McCormack medal as the No. 1 amateur for the last three years. She already has won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the NCAA title.
Missing is the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, already considered in its fourth year the premier amateur event for women.
Her goal was to keep it simple, and it was simply great golf. Her birdies on all the par 5s included a 50-foot putt on the 14th early in her round.
“From the start, I really just wanted to make pars because at Champions Retreat, you never know what you’re going to get,” Zhang said. “With the ground being so soft and so muddy, I can’t expect anything more than my game today.”
The big birdie putt came with an assist from her father, who is caddying for her. The wind left debris in the line of her long putt. She says he was sweeping away debris “like a maniac” and she was trying to keep him calm.
“It turned out for the best,” she said with a laugh. “I have him to thank for that.”