She might play under the American flag, but it’s a rather Irish name atop the ISPS HANDA World Invitational leaderboard as Lauren Coughlin assumed a share of the lead at the midway point of the first round in Co Antrim.
The 29-year-old University of Virginia graduate carded an eagle, four birdies and a bogey in a five-under-par 67 at Massereene to give herself a share of top spot with Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen after the early wave of starters had completed their rounds.
She was helped by a rather fortuitous bounce on the par-five 10th, her chip shot ricocheting off playing partner Alice Hewson’s marker and into the hole for eagle, which helped her on her way to a round that has her in a strong position.
Coughlin has struggled in recent weeks, missing four of her last five cuts, but she’s no stranger to having to grind having made her way through the Epson Tour and onto the LPGA Tour, and she’s found something in Northern Ireland that has her in the mix after day one.
“I think it’s just I kind of had a rough couple weeks the last few weeks between Evian and Scottish and then the British. I think I was just trying to ease up a little bit and not take it too seriously, just go have fun,” she explained.
“I was more just trying to not take it too seriously. Past results don’t necessarily mean it’s going to continue, and trying to live that as best as possible.
“It was fun. Really good start. Really excited to be back in Ireland, or Northern Ireland, so, yeah.”
Coughlin entered the week ranked 158th on the LPGA Tour in putts per round with 32, but a real focus on improving her work on the greens has helped drastically, especially in her first round at Massereene, much to her relief.
“Luckily putting doesn’t take too much out of you, so I just kind of spend as much time, again, more just trying to get a feel for how the speed of the green was. They roll really pure, so I knew as long as I was starting it on line and had good speed, I had a good shot of going in,” added Coughlin.
She was matched by Pedersen, who also shot a 67 at Massereene thanks to an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys as she looks to return to top form after a year where she hasn’t quite lived up to her lofty 2021.
The Dane, who represented Europe at last year’s Solheim Cup, hasn’t finished inside the top-20 at an event since April’s Lotte Championship and has been battling some fatigue recently from a tough stretch of tournaments.
However, Pedersen was able to power through that and open with a very impressive first round, which she was understandably pleased with.
“It was a good start. Managed to hole a few putts and play decent and kind of stay in the middle,” she said.
“To be honest, I’ve been quite tired. It’s been two tough weeks at Dundonald and Muirfield, and then with two courses this week… I probably haven’t prepared like I would a normal event, but I feel like we’ve done the best we could to get ready.
“At the end of the day, no matter what course it is, it’s picking a target and putting on a good swing and try and get it to there. So just been trying to do that.”
The pair hold a one-shot lead over a large group of players at four-under-par, with Cara Gainer, Kaitlyn Papp, Christine Wolf, Rosie Davies and Manon de Roey the best players at Galgorm after they carded a quartet of 69s.
South Africa’s Lee-Ann Pace and America’s Janie Jackson joined them with a pair of 68s at Massereene.
Meanwhile, Olivia Mehaffey opened with three birdies and six bogeys in a three-over 75, while five bogeys and one birdie in a 76 for Stephanie Meadow – both at Massereene – has them sitting just outside the top-100 early in day one.