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Venezuelan rookie leading Walmart
June 29, 2012

Veronica Felibert -6, Rolex Rankings No. 723
Shanshan Feng -5, Rolex Rankings No. 3
Inbee Park -4, Rolex Rankings No. 25
Mi Jung Hur -4, Rolex Rankings No. 152
Stacy Lewis -1, Rolex Rankings No. 2

LPGA Tour rookie Veronica Felibert leads by one shot after the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Felibert shot a 6-under 65 at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas on Friday to take the lead after the first 18 holes of the 54-hole event. The Venezuelan native, who will turn 27 on Saturday, sits one shot ahead of 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng and two shots ahead of a group of three other players at 4-under-par: Inbee Park, Karine Icher, and Mi Jung Hur.

Early on Sunday, Venezuelan Veronica Felibert found herself second on this week’s alternate list and was uncertain if she would be playing in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. It wasn’t until 5:00 p.m. Sunday night that Felibert learned the good news that she gained entry into this week’s field.

“Well, I was planning on playing the Monday qualifier so I flew in Sunday night from Canada,” said Felibert. “But by 5:00 p.m. I was already in because of the four spots of the Hall of Famer, something like that, so I got in and I'm here.”

Each week the LPGA holds spots for the previous week’s winner and Hall of Fame member and on Sunday night, two spots were released earning Felibert entry into her fifth official LPGA Tournament of the year.

A former member of the Symetra Tour and a rookie on this year’s LPGA Tour, Felibert’s first-round 6-under-par 65 marks her first round in the 60s this year. Coming off three consecutive missed cuts, Felibert didn’t hide her excitement at finding herself in the lead after one round of the 54-hole event.

“Well, I'm enjoying it,” said Felibert. “It's like a dream to be on top all the time, so it's my rookie season, I was trying to just playing the best I could and that's what I'm doing, and as long as I'm enjoying it, I'll be happy.”

Shanshan Feng wasn’t able to hold a share of the first-round lead after recording a bogey on her last hole, the par-5 18th hole. But that didn’t mean that the recent 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship winner was upset with her round.

Feng fired a 5-under 66 on Friday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, which included eight birdies and three bogeys. That included a bogey on the 18th hole when she three-putted after nearly reaching the green in two.

“I think on this course it's not easy to have a bogey-free round,” Feng said, noting her 8 birdies on the day. “So I expect myself to make a couple of bogeys in a round. I think I did pretty well today and just keep the same thing going on for two more days.”

Shanshan Feng had barely sat down for her post-tournament press conference when she made her first comment about the heat out on the golf course in Friday’s first round.

“Did it rain out there today? Because I’m not sure how I got so drenched,” Feng said with a laugh.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees in Arkansas for first-round play, there were certainly a lot of players who were thankful to get some relief from the heat when they were finished with their rounds.

“It's so hot out there,” said Stacy Lewis. “The actual front, the front nine, it's not bad. You're kind of in the trees, you get some wind back in there. Once you make the turn and hit 13, 13 on in, it's so hot, you're just baking. Michelle and I were talking on 18, we just wanted to get done because it just felt like it was beating down on top of you. So it's really hot out there and it's tough to get your energy level up to hit those shots and to keep going, but everybody's got to do it and I'm looking forward to the morning [tee time] tomorrow.”

Mi Jung Hur burst onto the LPGA scene early in her career becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2009 Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola where she defeated Suzann Pettersen and Michele Redman in a two-hole playoff. Hur then went on to continue her solid play in 2010 where she recorded two top-10 finishes including runner-up at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

It wasn’t until 2011 that Hur’s confidence began to diminish when she missed seven out of 18 cuts and finished no better than tied for eighth leaving her 74th on the season-ending money list.

Hur returned to her old form at last week’s Manulife Financial LPGA Classic where she recorded her first top-10 finish in 24 events. Coming off the ninth place finish, Hur opened with a 4-under-par 67 to further prove her confidence has returned.

“Last week was my first top-10 this year and I think I played seven tournaments,” said Hur. “But last year I finished 74th money list, so I lose a lot of confidence at that time. But swing better and hit the ball better. I have a lot of confidence right now.”

Inbee Park is no stranger to the big stage. The 23-year-old South Korean burst on to the LPGA scene when she became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. But since then, Park has been searching to get back in the winner’s circle.

Park came close to that last week. She was part of a four-player playoff at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, falling shy of a victory as she was ousted on the second hole of the three-hole playoff that was won by Brittany Lang.

Park’s confidence seems to be building as she found herself up near the top of the leaderboard once again after Friday’s first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. She shot a 4-under 67 to sit in a tie for third with Mi Jung Hur and Karine Icher.

“I'm hitting the ball great,” Park said. “I'm putting really great, too. I went through a minor swing change this year and I think it's getting better and better. I'm hitting the ball better and getting my confidence up, so I think that's helped me a lot, and I'm definitely rolling the ball good.”

It seems that Park’s confidence is peaking at the right time with the U.S. Women’s Open taking place next week at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis.

“I've been playing really good the last couple weeks, and I think it's the right time because it is a big major next weekend,” Park said. “That really helps me getting my confidence up and with my swing, too, so I'm looking forward to a good result.”

In the midst of a season that includes two wins and the top spot in the Rolex Player of the Year race, former University of Arkansas Razorback, Stacy Lewis, has finally reached her comfort zone so it’s time to have a little fun. Playing in front of what can be considered a hometown crowd, Lewis made a valiant effort on Friday to energize the fans on the popular par-3 17th hole.

Just a short time after leading the fans in the ever-popular University of Arkansas Calling the Hogs woo pig sooie chant, Lewis threw out some hats and footballs.

“I think I'm getting more comfortable being in the spotlight and having that attention,” said Lewis. “I'm trying to get 17 rowdy. We want to get it a little bit crazier every year, and it was hot out there, so it's hard for those people to get going, give them some hats. I've got to come up with something else for the weekend but we'll see.”

Lewis might have three LPGA Tour victories under her belt but the Rolex Rankings No. 2 player proved she had quite an arm on her while throwing out the footballs.

“I wasn't sure how far those footballs were going to go, so I'm glad they got all the way to the people,” said Lewis. I was trying to find something fun to do and we'll have to keep it up for this weekend. I've got to get some more ideas going.”

Injuries have plagued Stacy Lewis since a young age as she battled through scoliosis. Recently, Lewis has been suffering from a nagging injury in her foot which seems to be getting progressively worse as of late.

“Well, it's actually been bothering me for about a year now. It's something that just hasn't really gone away,” said Lewis.” This last week or so it hasn't -- it's probably been at its worse. It hurts more walking than it does hitting golf shots. It definitely didn't affect my swing or the way I'm doing anything, but I'm probably limping a little bit walking around.”

With next week’s U.S. Women’s Open on the horizon, Lewis will have to battle through the pain then go get the injury examined prior to Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale.

“But I'm going to fight through it,” said Lewis. “We've got the U.S. Open next week so you're going to see me playing. I can play through it, I don't know what I did. I'm going to see a doctor in a couple weeks just because it's not going away. They thought it was the plantar fasciitis, but it's not going away like it should. It shouldn't be anything serious because I'm able to walk around on it all the time. It should be okay.

Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng, who has won this event the past two years, opened up with a 2-over 73 in Friday’s first round…Jee Young Lee and Seon Hwa Lee both withdrew during the first round of play.

WALMART NW ARKANSAS
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