On a demanding golf course, Fatima Fernandez Cano fired a six-birdie, two-bogey round of 68 to take a two-shot lead Friday over five players in the Murphy USA El Dorado Classic.
“This is a really tough golf course,” Fernandez Cano said of Mystic Creek Golf Club, which is ranked the No. 1 course in Arkansas with a course rating from the tips of 78.1.
“I’ve played it twice before and I was prepared in that I knew you had to be mentally stronger than you do everywhere else. You have to be on top of every shot. You can’t take a moment off. So, I was just happy to hit it solid today and make a few putts.”
Fernandez Cano hit 17 of 18 greens but still made two bogeys, which speaks to the difficulty of Mystic Creek. Only 12 players broke par in benign conditions on Friday and half of those were only -1.
Cano, 25, is a native of Santiago, Spain. While attending Troy University, she was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in 2016. In 2020, she won her first professional event, the IOA Championship.
In 2021, she has six top-five finishes, including a runner up at the Symetra Classic. She is currently No. 5 in the Race for the Card.
“It’s unusual for the Symetra Tour but I really enjoyed playing this kind of hard golf course,” said Meghan MacLaren, who is tied for second at 2-under par. “We don’t often play courses that are as mentally engaging as this one. A lot of places you just have to make birdies and that’s it. Obviously, that’s one skill but this is something different. You have to be on the ball with your approaches because you can hit good shots and end up in dead spots pretty easily. Sometimes that means giving yourself a 25-footer, and not an easy 25-footer. But that beats the alternative. So, it requires a different mindset.”
“My ball striking is the strength of my game,” Fernandez Cano said. “My iron play has been especially good, which is what you have to have out here. The margin for error out here is very small and even though the greens might be big, you miss the spot a little bit and you run off into an area that is very tough. You just have to be on the right plateaus.
“I have also been working really hard on my putting and that worked really well today. But being mentally strong and not saying, ‘okay, hit the green, two putt; hit the green, two putt,’ that has been a big part of what I’ve been working on.”
Sarah Hoffman, Laura Wearn, Marlene Krolboll Hansen and Lucy Li share second with MacLaren at 2-under par.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a little longer which has helped, especially on a golf course of like this,” Li said.
Tied at 1-under par are Sophia Schubert, Yaeeun Hong, Katelyn Dambaugh, Savannah Vilaubi, Allison Emrey and Casey Danielson, who is currently No. 3 in the Race for the Card.
SCHUBERT AT PEACE WITH HER BUBBLE POSITION
She knows she’s on the LPGA Tour bubble, sitting right below the qualifying number at 11th in the Race for the Card with three events remaining. But former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert tries not to pay attention to the standings.
“You would think that I would but I’m trying my best to just play my game,” the 25-year-old from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, said after opening with a 1-under 71 in the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout. “Whatever happens is meant to happen.”
Schubert is pleased with the 71 at Mystic Creek Golf Club. “Oh my gosh, it’s a beast,” she said of the Ken Dye design. “I knew from playing here two years ago that it was going to be hard. It’s always going to be one of the toughest (courses) we play all year. But it’s a great golf course, always in a great shape.
“The greens are what make it so difficult. (The course) kind of reminds me of a combination of Pinehurst No. 2 and Augusta National, just the way the greens are so undulating, and they have so many run-offs. You have miss on the correct side to have any shot.”
Despite her precarious position in the Race for the Card, Schubert seems relaxed and at peace with her life, her game and her position. “I feel really confident,” she said. “I really left some (birdies) out there today. So, I feel pretty good about it. I had three bogeys in the row on my first nine holes, which was kind of discouraging. But I was able to hold it together on the back nine and get some back.
“I think I’m doing pretty well right now. I started off (the season) pretty strong and then I wasn’t playing too well in the middle of the season and now I’ve finally found my game again. I’ve worked really hard during my off weeks. I’ve been doing a lot of up-and-down drills and working a lot on my lag putting. Out here that’s crucial. I think it’s helped a lot. And hopefully it pays off in the end.”
SIERRA SIMS BOOSTED BY CAREER-FIRST ALBATROSS
It’s the rarest shot in golf, far more exceptional than an ace and, on the whole, requiring much greater skill. Early on Friday afternoon during the opening round of the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout at Mystic Creek Golf Club, 25-year-old Sierra
Sims holed a 5-wood from 208 yards on the par-5 18th for an albatross, a double-eagle two, a score few ever witness much less have on their own.
“I aimed about 10 yards right of the pin and really just wanted to get it on the green since it was a reasonably long shot and that’s a hard green to hit,” the Wake Forest alumna said. “The ball was tracking. It hit about 6 feet in front of the pin. The people behind the green saw that it was going to go in. I was like, ‘what?’ because it’s so rare. It was awesome.”
It was Sims’ last shot of the day and it put an exclamation point in a round that had its ups and downs. She shot 74 and had two double bogeys, three bogeys, two birdies and a two on the par-5 last.
“It was an amazing way to end,” Sims said. “It’s a tough course, so that definitely boosted me. I’m much happier with my score after that double-eagle. I’ve had three aces but that’s my first double-eagle.”