Morgan Pressel ties for lead at 66

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Morgan Pressel wasn't expecting anyone to see her white clothes Thursday at the Women's British Open. She figured she'd be wearing her black rain gear all during the opening round. So, you know, it's a good thing she matched the shorts and shirt.

"I'm a Florida girl; this weather is more like what I'm used to at home," Pressel said, looking equally amazed by the conditions and the fact she's tied for the lead with Sweden's Camilla Lennarth. "This is the warmest I've ever been at the British Open. It turned out to be a beautiful day."

Indeed, after an overcast, slightly drizzly morning during which world No. 1 Inbee Park shot a 3-under 69, the sun came out and it got downright toasty during the afternoon at the Old Course.

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Finding the warm weather to her liking, Floridian Morgan Pressel charged to the lead with an opening-round 66.

That perhaps explains why a Floridian is co-leader at 6-under 66, while a Texan (Stacy Lewis) and three Californians (Nicole Castrale, Sydnee Michaels and Ryann O'Toole) were in a group of seven tied for third at 67.

Another trio from the Golden State -- Paula Creamer, Lizette Salas and Danielle Kang -- was tied in a group of eight in 10th at 68. The weather was good enough for a large chunk of the day that maybe the Americans forgot they were in Great Britain.

That's just as well. The U.S. players would be best served to keep right on forgetting that, although the fickle Scottish weather is unlikely to allow them to do so. But the truth is, amnesia of past results would help: This has not been a good event for the red, white and blue.

In the past 20 years, only two Americans have won the Women's British Open title: Sherri Steinhauer and Emilee Klein. Steinhauer won it three times, most recently in 2006 at age 43. She is a native of Wisconsin, so she grew up playing in blustery, cold weather. It was an advantage that showed with her performances here.

Meanwhile, Pressel has had just one top-40 result in seven previous visits to this tournament. That was an eighth-place finish in 2010, when it was held at Royal Birkdale in England.

The only other time St. Andrews hosted the Women's British Open, in 2007, Mexico's Lorena Ochoa won. Pressel missed the cut then and didn't enjoy the visit. She's far from the only American on the PGA or LPGA tours to cross the pond and almost immediately want to go back.

Pressel jokes that she's extremely familiar with St. Andrews Country Club, which is her home course in Boca Raton, Fla., and not ever to be confused with her current location.

"It rains in Florida, of course," Pressel said. "But when it does, we stop playing golf and go inside."

Links golf in the United Kingdom seems so dashing -- practically romantic, even -- when you're watching it on television. Then when U.S. players first get here, the feeling for a lot of them is, "You're kidding, right? I'm freezing. It's raining horizontally. What is with this ground? What am I aiming at here? I'm supposed to love this?"

For a few Yankee Doodle Dandies, coming to play in the U.K. is like the proverbial duck-to-water scenario. Steinhauer was like that, and so was the PGA Tour's Tom Watson, who learned bad-weather play in his hometown of Kansas City and won the Open five times.

For many, though, playing here is more to be endured than enjoyed. Texas native Angela Stanford has so agonized over her Women's British Open misery that she almost didn't come this year. She decided just a couple of weeks before the tournament to give it another try.

Stanford was still pretty Eeyore-ish on Thursday, despite matching Park's score of 69, tied for 18th in a logjam group of 20.

"I think it was playing as easy as we're going to see it, and this is probably the best weather we'll get," Stanford said. "I probably should have taken more advantage of today."

OK, but it was a pretty good round, right?

"Um, I guess so," Stanford said. "I kind of let it get away the last few holes."

Pressel, though, was all smiles when she walked off the course a few hours before Lennarth finished after 8 p.m. local time.

"It's kind of surreal," Pressel said, and then, as if she had to hear it out loud to believe it, added, "Leading at St. Andrews."

Pressel said she got an inkling that perhaps she could play links golf after the third round of the 2010 event at Birkdale, where she shot a 65.

"It gave me a better outlook for the British Opens I've played since," she said.

Pressel last won an LPGA event in October 2008, and her only major title is the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Coming into 2013, she was an unknown quantity. She'd been dealing with a wrist injury since the summer of 2012, and she had been very busy -- but happy -- off the course, getting married in January.

She started to show she was a contender again in early June when she led after the second round of the LPGA Championship, where she eventually finished tied for third. Pressel hasn't been in the top 10 since but came into this tournament feeling more prepared than in 2007.

"[Then] I probably hit driver everywhere and hoped that it didn't end up in a bunker," she said. "Whereas now, I understand more how penal those bunkers can be and how important it is to avoid them.

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Stacy Lewis played the back nine in 5 under and finished tied for third with a 67.

"But on the back nine today, I had chances to aim at flags, and I did."

World No. 2 Lewis, who played early in the morning, also was successfully aggressive on the back nine, playing it in 5 under after an even front side. Lewis did not fare well in the three previous majors this year, but she has had good results the past two years (tied for 11th, tied for eighth) at the Women's British.

Lewis was born in Ohio but grew up near Houston, and if you've seen those LPGA commercials in which she sports a cowboy hat, you know she considers herself a Texan. She did not play in the 2007 Women's British -- she was still in college at Arkansas -- but competed at St. Andrews in the 2008 Curtis Cup while still an amateur.

"I played really good that week, and it was so much fun," Lewis said. "I had a local caddie, and I told him, 'I want to know all the stories.' I love the history of this place."

Actually, Pressel said she loves that part, too, even if her 2007 visit here was unpleasant. Thursday, she was in a group with Scotland's favorite, Edinburgh native Catriona Matthew, who is at 4 under.

Pressel would like to be facing off against Matthew and the Europeans at next month's Solheim Cup in suburban Denver. Making that team has been heavily on her mind all year. The U.S. team will be composed of the top eight in Solheim points, the next two highest in the world rankings, and then two captain's selections by Meg Mallon.

The Women's British is the last chance to earn Solheim points, which are doubled at majors. Pressel, who has a 7-2-2 record in three previous Solheim appearances, craves a strong finish here for the crucial points.

"It's been difficult to put [the Solheim] out of my mind," Pressel said. "But at the end of the day, I'm here to win this tournament."

That's something not many Americans have been able to say over the years.

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