With COVID behind them, Carlota Ciganda and Gaby Lopez take share of early lead at KPMG
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – The week before the LPGA restarted its season, Gaby Lopez tested negative for COVID-19 and made the trip to Toledo, (...)
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – The week before the LPGA restarted its season, Gaby Lopez tested negative for COVID-19 and made the trip to Toledo, Ohio. Days later, she became the first player on the LPGA to test positive for the virus. Lopez suffered from dry throat and fatigue.
Carlota Ciganda came into Toledo six weeks removed from her own bout with the coronavirus, in which she tested positive for five consecutive weeks. The Spaniard spiked a fever, battled headaches, fatigue and weight loss. Her memory wasn’t great either.
As the world continues to fight through a global pandemic, these two players in particular don’t take for granted what it means to be competing in this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. On a crisp, breezy to gusty, sun-splashed day outside of Philly, Lopez and Ciganda posted 2-under 68s to take the early clubhouse lead with Sweden’s Linnea Strom.
There are no fans on property. Charlotte Thomas withdrew from the field earlier this week after her caddie tested positive for COVID-19. She’s in the midst of a 14-day quarantine; her caddie’s will last 10 days.
Historic Aronimink Golf Club, a Donald Ross design, didn’t play as long as it did in practice rounds due in part to a shift in the wind and a slight decrease in yardage. It’s still stout though, with three-shot par 5s and par 3s that have even Ciganda hitting 4- and 5-irons.
“I think you just have to be patient,” said Ciganda,” otherwise this course is going to eat you.”
Lopez won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions back in January, which seems like a lifetime ago given all that has transpired since then. The 166-day break the LPGA endured wasn’t so bad, she said, given all that she had to work on.
A neck injury late last year brought on by overuse required a cortisone shot and rest. When she got back to work, she started shanking the ball as she worked on shallowing out her swing. Needless to say, the victory in January came as quite the surprise.
“It’s whenever you least expect it,” she said,” whatever you’re grateful with. The fact that I was healthy, that I was swinging the club again, to me, that’s the biggest blessing.”
The COVID-19 quarantine in July and August took Lopez away from the game for two weeks. She came back trying to press to make up for lost time, finishing T-59 in three straight events.
A pair of top-30 finishes in the last two weeks showed an upward trend.
Ciganda, like Lopez a two-time winner on the LPGA, comes into the week inspired by the victorious play of compatriot Sergio Garcia.
With the 10th hole tee up a bit, an aggressive Ciganda could catch the hill with her drive, leaving 9-iron into the green. In Wednesday’s practice round, she hit 5-iron.
A similar story played out on the 15th hole, which played downwind. On Thursday, Ciganda hit 7-iron from the rough onto the green and made birdie, noting that she would’ve hit 9- or 8-iron had she found the fairway. In the practice rounds, she hit 4-iron to a back pin.
Inbee Park still hit 3-wood into the 10th hole from 205 into a cross-wind but managed to make birdie and felt like she picked up a couple strokes on the field.
The seven-time major winner didn’t sound too optimistic after the practice rounds but praised the way the PGA of America set up the course for Round 1.
“Yeah, I mean, the course still played long but not stupidly long like we played in the practice round,” said Park, who opened with a 70, “because a lot of tees were moved up and the wind direction was different. A lot of the long holes we were playing downwind or cross wind, not into the wind. It was playing perfectly today.”
Park predicted that Thursday’s round would be the easiest of the week. If the wind stays up, any number under par is a job well done.
Due to Sunday’s telecast ending at 2 p.m. ET, the leaders won’t be the last group off in the final round. Park said she’s OK with that.
“If I’m in contention,” said Park, “I would love to play in the morning because I don’t want any more thoughts getting into my mind.”
It’s tough enough out there.