FLORIDA — Clariss Guce and Abegail Arevalo opened with two-under-par 70s but found the field too tough on Thursday at the start of the Epson Tour Championship at the LPGA International Jones Course in Daytona Beach.
Guce and Arevalo are mired at T35 with 15 others, seven shots behind the leaders, Michelle Zhang of China and Minji Kang of South Korea.
Pauline del Rosaro was one shot further at T52.
Zhang capitalized on her first competitive round by carding an eagle, eight birdies and just one bogey.
Starting on No. 1, the Shen Zhen, China native parred her first four holes before making the first of many birdies on the par-5 5th. Zhang closed out her front nine with a 32 after a three-hole birdie streak on holes 7, 8 and 9.
The 18-year-old extended the streak with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before making her sole bogey of the day on the 12th to drop to five-under. She continued along, making birdies on both of the par 3s on the back nine, before closing out her round on the 18th with an eagle.
“Today was just such an amazing day. I literally blacked out. Literally every hole I had amazing approach shots,” Zhang said. “Like six feet by the hole, and it was just every hole I had a pretty makable birdie chance.”
Currently sitting at No. 47 on the Race for the Card list, the former Southern Methodist University student-athlete has a chance to move within the top-35 with a solid performance this week.
Alongside Zhang in a tie for first is fellow rookie, Kang. With a tee time off the back nine, the 23-year-old got off to a quick start making a birdie on her first hole. She continued to move up the leaderboard with a pair of birdies on holes 12 and 13 before making her only bogey of the day on the par-3 14th.
The Korean made the turn at five-under par, thanks to a birdie on the 16th as well as an eagle on No. 18.
Kang continued her strong play on the front nine, starting hot once again with a pair of birdies on the first two holes. Thanks to her putting, she would make two more birdies on holes 6 and 9 to turn in a nine-under par round to tie Zhang.