A Major In Spirit


Pressel made five birdies during a front-nine 31 that helped vault her into the lead.

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France -- In France a short drive from Geneva is Evian-les-Bains, the quaint, charming spa town nestled along the lake with the mountains of the Haute Savoy rising dramatically behind. Evian lives and breathes its Masters with banners, champions photos, festivities and Evian Pink everywhere.

An LPGA-LET co-sanctioned event, the Evian Masters, in its 17th year, has grown enormously in the last decade, not only in prize money but also in the size of the field. The 2010 edition has 111 selected players from all over the globe, including the top 24 players in the Rolex Women's World Ranking. Even though the event isn't a major championship, its purse of $3,250,000 is tied with the U.S. Open for the richest prize pool in women's golf.

Many feel that the Evian Masters Golf Club is France's flowering answer to Augusta National with its vibrant geraniums, fuchsias, and other pink blooms. The course's beauty adds to the tournament's status, though Thursday's occasional showers, along with cloudy and humid weather didn't make for ideal viewing conditions.

Scoring, on the other hand, was good with the course being softened up by the rain and no one took more advantage in the opening round than Morgan Pressel. The young American shot a six-under 66, thanks in large part to an exceptional front-nine 31.

"Today was the first day I felt solid all round this year," Pressel said.

Just 22 years old, Pressel has been on tour for five years now.

"It's crazy, some days it seems like twenty years, and others like only yesterday. With the 15 year-olds, it makes me feel old! They can play, they've got game."

England's Melissa Reid, playing in her second Evian Masters, also shot 66.

"I made a monster putt on the 10th from across the green and kept the momentum," said Reid, who earned her first LET victory in Turkey earlier this year. "I haven't played my 'A' game yet this year, but it's going in the right direction. A big event like this and you see how you compare with the big girls."

Reid was also excited to get to play in the Evian Masters annual soccer match at the conclusion of the first round against Zinedine Zidane and other stars.

South Korean Sun-Ju Ahn joined Pressel and Reid at the top of the leader board on day one. The 23 year old from Seoul affectionately called "Big Mama" played well despite having a late tee time and playing in poorer conditions, eagling the 18th in the rain.

South Korea's M.J. Hur shot a 67 with four birdies on the inward nine for a 33, including a superb 17-foot putt on the tricky 18th green. Fellow countrywoman Song-Hee Kim also shot 67.

Lurking at four under is a pack of top players -- Kraft Nabisco champion Yani Tseng, Michelle Wie, Na Yeon Choi, Jeong Jang, Meena Lee, and Mi-Jeong Jeon. Wie looked recovered from a bout with heat exhaustion that caused her to withdraw from Wednesday's pro-am.

Fifteen-year-old phenom Alexis Thompson, playing her first Evian Masters, is at three under along with world No. 3 Suzann Pettersen and defending champion Ai Miyazoto. Cristie Kerr struggled on the front nine, but finished at level par.

Miyazato, who won this event in a playoff last year, is back defending not only her title but also her No. 1 ranking.

"I am really happy to be here again and have been waiting to be in Evian since the beginning of the season," said Miyazato, who became the first player in almost a half century to win the two opening events of an LPGA season earlier this year. "I am really excited and looking forward to my special week here."